This week the FAA hosted two public comment hearings for SpaceX’s Starship facility in Boca Chica, Texas. Both sessions lasted for about five hours, with over 100 commenters speaking with more not making the time cut. The hearings had two overall points made by commenters, “SpaceX is hurting our environment and way of life” and “move out of the way FAA and let Elon do Elon things.”
Don’t dismiss those complaints, they may have a point
Both nights the spaceflight community was extremely active both in the hearing and on social media. SpaceX and Elon Musk’s dream of colonizing Mars resonates with many and has somehow landed on this little city along the border – a city that is now one of the most sought-after areas to live for those that share this dream. This change has brought increased property values and wear and tear on the local infrastructure.
The need for a new Environmental Impact Statement
Many commenters that came out against SpaceX wished for the FAA to conduct a new Environmental Impact Statement on SpaceX’s Starship facility. This document details the proposed environmental impacts by land development projects, much more detailed than an Environmental Assessment. An EIS was conducted by the FAA and SpaceX back in 2014, but the scope of the SpaceX South Texas Launch Site since back then has changed dramatically.
Commenters pointed out the change from Falcon 9 and Heavy launches to the development of the world’s most powerful rocket, along with additions of natural gas and liquid oxygen production. Many commenters believe these changes far surpass what the previous EIS expected, and a new EIS is required. Many would say these are fair complaints since a lot has changed since 2014. For example, no one would have imagined we would be catching skyscraper-size rockets back then. Who knows what kind of legal dispute could arise if the FAA decides to use the 2014 EIS for SpaceX’s Starship launches.
Gentrification, increasing cost of living for generational residents
As mentioned earlier, the increased attention Cameron County has received has brought new residents, tourists, and jobs to the area. An increased cost of living and more wear and tear on infrastructure was mentioned by some commenters. A counterpoint, given by many pro-SpaceX commenters, was this is expected with any development. Unfortunately, this isn’t easy to show quantitively at the moment, as rent prices have gone up nationwide, not proving it is related to SpaceX. That being said, Cameron county housing prices started below the national average before the beginning of Starship testing and is now well above the national average, per FRED Economic Data.
Pro-SpaceX comments rang hollow of quantitative facts
The large majority of commenters were in favor of SpaceX’s developments in the area. While the FAA’s public comment hearings were open to all parties to share their thoughts and opinions on Starship, that is what they were, opinions.
While it is great to hear how SpaceX has changed the lives of many in the Brownsville area, these praises made up very few of the pro-SpaceX comments. Instead, most comments focused on the belief that Elon Musk and his companies can do no wrong, and because of that, the FAA should “move out of the way” and let Elon do his work.
Some pro-SpaceX commenters did bring up a good point, do the downsides outweigh the potential growth gained from this development? Investment in the space industry has historically been returned with interest, and SpaceX’s ability to drastically reduce the cost of launches would disrupt the industry as we know it. Could this development negatively impact long time residents? Yes, but it can be certainly be argued that this impact is worth it to improve the surrounding cities and humanity.
Starship’s advantages don’t mean that SpaceX should be lifted above the law. Ensuring that environmental and economic concerns are adequately handled will not be the hurdle that will block humanity from becoming multi-planetary.
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