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SpaceX Starbase expansion plans will harm endangered species: FWS

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Montrose Beach, July 10, 2021 – A chick of the piping plumper ewe stands beside one its parents, Monty, or Rose.

Tribune News Service – Getty Images| Tribune News Service | Getty Images

SpaceX must track and minimize its effects on endangered species in order for it to receive approvals to test and launch commercially. StarshipDocuments from the U.S. show that Super Heavy lift-launch vehicle was launched in Boca Chica. CNBC has obtained Fish and Wildlife Service.

These documents were made public by the federal agency as a response to a Freedom of Information Act Request. The records show that recent decreases in an endangered bird species called the piping plover have been linked with SpaceX activity at South Texas.

These documents reveal also that SpaceX has reduced the energy it intends to produce at utility-sized natural gases. power plantThere is a launch site of 47.4 acres.

CNBC reached out to the company for clarification on this matter but they did not respond immediately.

What is at stake?

The Federal Aviation Administration will ultimately decide. They are responsible for final approvals of SpaceX and supervision in Texas.

This FAA approval is crucial for the company’s future growth and ability to launch additional Falcon rockets. This approval also affects SpaceX’s Texas business commitments.

Chief Executive Officers were elected in February Elon Musk said that his reusable rocket and satellite internet company could shift its Starship Super Heavy launch activity to the state of Florida, and turn its Boca Chica spaceport into more of an R&D campus, if regulatory hurdles in Texas proved insurmountable.

SpaceX submitted its latest proposal to build the Boca Chica facility in September 2021. SpaceX had stated at that point it wanted to create a new launch terminal, landing platform, power plant and infrastructure for natural gas. This includes retention ponds and deluge system.

SpaceX seeks a FAA permit or vehicle operator license to allow the company to construct new facilities near Brownsville, Texas. SpaceX also wants the FAA permission for the launch of larger Starship rockets. It is located on a very small parcel of land, surrounded by wildlife refuges.

Prior to issuing licenses or permits, the FAA conducts extensive research with a range of state and federal agencies as well as local experts in environmental issues.

A consultation is part of the FAA process. It involves the Fish and Wildlife Service in ensuring that SpaceX does not violate the Endangered Species Act.

Wildlife impacts

The FWS has determined — and written in a document known as a draft biological and conference opinion (BCO) — that if SpaceX moves ahead with the proposal it sent to the FAA, it would impact some species protected under the Endangered Species Act, as well as hundreds of acres of their critical habitat, although the activity would not completely wipe out those species.

Most concerning is the anticipated effects of the company on habitat and mating patterns for the jaguarundi, piping plumover, red knot and ocelot species. There are many factors that can disrupt and cause harm. These include regular traffic and noises from vehicles, but also rocket testing, launches and the heat, explosions, and fragmentation to habitat.

There are several species of sea turtles that have been identified as being at risk. FWS referred the matter to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who has marine life experts. The Kemp’s Ridley turtle nests at Boca Chica. It is considered to be the most endangered sea turtle on the planet.

Draft opinion warns of 903.65 acres of critical habitat for piping plovers around the facility. 446.27 acres will also be lost due to SpaceX activities under the FAA proposal.

FWS’s recommendations and needs include SpaceX being able to closely monitor animal populations, restrict construction and launch activities to certain times or seasons of the day and night, as well as using shuttles for worker transportation.

It is encouraging more research into possible effects on monarch butterflies. This species is currently being considered endangered or threatened in the U.S.

SpaceX may find the FWS opinion positive overall.

The agency requires very little in the way of spending, conservation and other commitments by SpaceX, says Jared Margolis, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity who read a copy of the draft BCO.

He stated, “It appears that the Fish and Wildlife Service are trying to find a way to allow more of what was a very harmful use of the Boca Chica location as far as wildlife impacts go.”

Margolis stated that FWS didn’t ask SpaceX for large or well-defined commitments in conservation. FWS required SpaceX to give $5,000 per year to an ocelot conservation organization.

He said, in addition that the majority of agency requests were only recommendations and could not be enforced under terms of an FAA permit.

Margolis noted that “This company is very wealthy,” and suggested that “the least they can do is to remedy these damages in a positive way.”

CNBC reached the U.S. Press Office. Fish and Wildlife Service, but they were not available immediately to respond on Margolis’ assertions.

The full draft BCO is available here.

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