Updated May 1, 2023, 3:47pm EDT
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Environmental groups sue FAA over SpaceX explosion

SpaceX Starship
REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo

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The News

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is being sued by several environmental groups over concerns that the agency authorized the launch of last month's SpaceX Starship without conducting an environmental review, CNBC first reported.

The five groups allege that the FAA "failed to take the requisite hard look at the proposed project" and that the proposed "environmental mitigations" did not adequately consider the impact of things like the construction, traffic to view the launch, and the eventual mid-air explosion of the ship.

Federal and state agencies, alongside independent researchers and a SpaceX team, are still working to determine the exact impact of the launch, with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk saying this weekend that preliminary evidence shows "no meaningful damage to the environment."

Environmentalists had expressed concern about how the large quantities of "sand- and ash-like particulate matter" and debris — which spread far beyond the anticipated debris field — could adversely affect people's respiratory health and endangered species in the area, CNBC previously reported.

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Know More

The five groups suing the FAA are The Center for Biological Diversity, the American Bird Conservancy, SurfRider Foundation, Save Rio Grande Valley (Save RGV) and the Carrizo-Comecrudo Nation of Texas, a cultural heritage organization.

The complaint alleged that the FAA had previously indicated in 2020 that they were planning an environment impact statement, but later chose a "considerably less thorough analysis" so the launch could be scheduled for earlier "based on SpaceX's preference."

The groups said this was a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) which requires federal agencies to properly assess environmental impacts prior to any major infrastructure developments.

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Step Back

SpaceX Starship — the world's biggest rocket — blew up the launchpad and exploded just minutes after its launch from Boca Chica, Texas, on April 20, hurling chunks of concrete and metal across thousands of feet of its radius.

Several endangered species, including the world's most endangered sea turtle, live in the areas protected by the National Wildlife Refuge near the launch site. A search by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not yet found carcasses of these endangered animals, but researchers were not able to access the site for two days following the launch, raising concerns that the carcasses may have already been eaten by predators or washed away.


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