Climate

Environmentalists sue over Texas beach closure for SpaceX rocket tests

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Key Points
  • An environmental nonprofit SaveRGV has sued the Texas General Land Office, its commissioner George P. Bush, and Cameron County for repeatedly closing public beaches for Elon Musk's re-usable rocket maker, SpaceX.
  • SaveRGV's complaint, filed Monday, says public beaches have been closed to accommodate SpaceX for up to 450 hours per year since 2019.
  • Amendments to the Texas Open Beaches Act in 2013 allowed counties to close public beaches by the Gulf Coast "for space flight activities." SaveRGV says the law as amended violates the Texas Constitution.
SpaceX's prototype Starship launches in a short first flight test at the company's facility in Boca Chica, Texas.
@LabPadre

Texas environmentalists, upset by frequent beach closures to accommodate tests by Elon Musk's rocket company SpaceX, filed a lawsuit in Cameron County state court that claims the practice violates the state's constitution.

SaveRGV alleges in a Monday complaint that officials' repeated closure of the Boca Chica Beach, an 8-mile stretch of sand near the city of Brownsville, for rocket tests and launches violates their constitutionally guaranteed right to access public beaches in their state.

The lawsuit, which says the beach has been closed to accommodate SpaceX for up to 450 hours per year since 2019, names the Texas General Land Office, its commissioner George P. Bush and Cameron County as defendants.

The clash between non-profit SaveRGV, government agencies and SpaceX, short for Space Exploration Technologies Corp, has grabbed local and national headlines. CBS's "60 Minutes" aired a segment in August on the controversy.

The Texas General Land Office and Cameron County did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Neither did Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX. The company told 60 Minutes it was committed to working cooperatively to resolve the matter.

"This isn't rocket science," Jim Chapman, a board member of the SaveRGV, said in a statement. "The Texas Constitution is crystal clear. In Texas, access to public beaches cannot be restricted." SaveRGV is represented by lawyers at public interest environmental firm Perales, Allmon & Ice.

The lawsuit takes aim at 2013 amendments to the Texas Open Beaches Act that allow counties to close public beaches located along the Gulf Coast "for space flight activities."

SaveRGV says the law as amended violates provisions of the Texas Constitution that guarantee an unrestricted right to access the state's public beaches.

SaveRGV seeks a declaration by the court that the sections of the Texas Open Beaches Act restricting their access to Boca Chica Beach, which the complaint says is located in a wildlife refuge in Cameron County, are unconstitutional. It also seeks a declaration that an agreement allowing for the beach's closure is invalid.

The Federal Aviation Administration said last month that it would extend a period for the public to submit comments on a draft report studying the environmental impacts of the proposed SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy rocket program in Boca Chica.