News & Politics

Environmental Racism? SpaceX Faces Public Hearings in Texas

AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

I used to live in oil and gas country. Contrary to what people think, if a company wants to put in a well, provided it finds a place where it is financially feasible to do so, it does not simply show up, start drilling, and ship product. There are NEPA studies, environmental impact assessments, environmental impact statements, public comments, and frequently lawsuits from those opposed to fossil fuels of any kind. And on occasion, protests. Reasons for opposition run the gamut, from the specter of fracking to effects on water, air, view sheds, and wildlife. In particular, I recall a dust-up over the potential effects of the energy industry on the sage grouse. Sage grouse are known for puffing up air sacs on their chests and running into one another during their mating season. Those in the know told me that sage grouse are also known for running in front of vehicles. The sage grouse debate dragged on for what seemed like geological epochs. At issue, of course, at least in the public eye, was ostensibly development versus conservation.

In a similar vein, while Blue Origin had the distinction of giving William Shatner his inaugural spaceflight sans his gold shirt (and the accompanying red shirts), Jeff Bezos’s competitor in the latest space race, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, found itself in the same position as the oil and gas industry this week.

On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration held a public hearing via Zoom about the effects of SpaceX launches at Boca Chica near Brownsville, Texas. The hearing was in regard to the agency’s draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment. While the assessment did not forecast many issues with the potential for noise, it did note that the water, culture, and natural resources, along with the endangered species, would probably be impacted and those problems would need mitigation. Commenters, local and otherwise, talked about the problems with infrastructure projects attached to SpaceX, including a solar farm. Other concerns included area homes getting shaken and beach and road closures during launches. Even residents from Mexico weighed in with environmental comments and concerns about gentrification as the project grows.

There was definite support for the project from others. City Commissioner Jessica Tetreau noted that since the arrival of SpaceX, Brownsville was no longer one of the most impoverished cities in the nation.

Round 2 was held Wednesday night. One of the biggest bones of contention was that not enough accommodations were made for Spanish-speaking people. One speaker called it a civil rights violation. Much of the objections and messages of support were the same as in the previous meeting, however some opponents referred to the project as “environmental racism.” The night brought out the worst in some people, including one man who upped the racial tension when he said he that did not want a “billionaire” to “hire a bunch of Mexicans because they’re just polluting the local area,” this despite the fact that Mexico is just miles away. But one man who spends a great deal of time in the area commented: “There is no such thing as environmental racism. That is a manufactured wokeism. If locals really cared about the beach, they would clean it up…. Locals really don’t care about their beach. They just want it because they’re petulant and childish. They want what they want, without any consequences.”

Related: Musk: Electric Cars Will Require a Lot More Electric Power Than We Currently Have

It’s true that, as PJ Media’s Stephen Kruiser pointed out, Musk stands to add to his pile of cash with this project. And housing prices and will go up as they have in many places, which will push lower wage earners out of the market and maybe even out of the community. I’ve seen that happen in my state. But at the same time, the project can bring jobs, development, and new retail opportunities to an area that has been economically depressed for some time. Both sides could stand to lose something over the issue, but both sides stand to win if they really want to find a way forward. As the commenter pointed out, people want what they want without consequences. Is Musk driven by an honest desire to explore space or is he a rich kid with dollar signs in his eyes who wants new toys to play with? After all, chances are you and I will never hitch a ride with Musk, or even Bezos for that matter. Conversely, are the opponents motivated by earnest concerns over the environment, race, and economics, or are they fueled by an innate hatred of anything that does not fit neatly into the progressive agenda?

The FAA has yet to decide whether or not it will require an environmental impact statement for the project.