Groups Protest FAA’s Curtailing of Spaceport Camden Review

Spaceport Camden launch complex (Credit: Camden County)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Environmental groups have protested a decision by the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) to limit its review of Spaceport Camden’s revised plan to launch satellites from Camden County, Georgia.

Calling the decision “unlawful,” the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) has urged the FAA to conduct a full review of the controversial plan that would allow for new public comment on the revised spaceport proposal supported by the Camden County government.

SELC laid out its reasoning in a 28-page letter dated Dec. 15 that it sent the FAA on behalf of itself and the One Hundred Miles, National Parks Conservation Association, Satilla Riverkeeper, and Wild Cumberland groups.

At issue is the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the proposed launch base. In its original proposal, Spaceport Camden was to host flights of medium- and large-lift launch vehicles. The original DEIS was completed in March 2018.

Backers of the controversial plan subsequently revised the application to include small- and medium-lift launch vehicles. The FAA planned to order a new DEIS due to the modifications.

SELC says the FAA illegally reversed itself in a letter dated Sept. 11, 2020. The letter said the “revised analyses have confirmed that all potential environmental impacts of the small-lift launch vehicles are subsumed within the potential impacts of the medium-large lift class vehicle as described in Draft EIS, issued in March 2018.”

The FAA letter also cited an executive order issued last June 4 by President Donald Trump titled, “Accelerating the Nation’s Economic Recovery from the COVID-19 Emergency by Expediting Infrastructure Investments and Other Activities.”

Trump’s executive order “seeks to facilitate the nation’s economic recovery from the national emergency by directing selected federal departments and agencies to use emergency and other authorities to expedite regulatory compliance for infrastructure and other projects,’ according to the Congressional Research Service.

SELC said the FAA decided “it will not conduct any additional public engagement or solicit public comment on the revised proposal.” The center also accused the federal agency of “acceding to political pressure by Camden County – the entity it is charged with regulating.”

SELC also took issue with the FAA’s interpretation of the president’s executive order.

“In simple terms, the President can sign an executive order instructing the FAA to work faster, but he cannot order the FAA to do less than the law requires. But doing less is precisely what the September 11th Letter describes,” the letter said.

Spaceport Camden launch trajectories (Credit: Camden County)

Spaceport Camden has been controversial since it was first proposed. Rather than being directly on the coast, the facility launch complex would be inland. Boosters would fly over the Cumberland Island National Seashore before reaching the Atlantic Ocean.

The proposal has sparked concern about the impact of rocket launches on sensitive wildlife areas located undert he path of the rockets. Residents who own land and homes within the national seashore also oppose the plan due to safety concerns over launch failures.