Local activists today submitted multiple requests for information about possible collusion between government officials and Elon Musk’s tech giant SpaceX in the company’s expansion into South Texas and the arrest of an environmental activist. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are part of continued opposition by community groups to the environmental damage and gentrification caused by corporate expansion in Cameron County, one of the poorest in the state.
Since commissioning in 2019, SpaceX has sparked numerous fires and explosions that have scattered chunks of metal so large they need to be removed by machines. Earth-shaking noise, industrial fires and boulder-sized debris threaten the area’s ecosystem, which includes endangered birds like Kemp’s Piping Plover and Ridley Sea Turtles, the smallest sea turtles in the world.
SpaceX sits on a sprawling compound on land sacred to the Carrizo/Comecrudo tribe, and Musk, who considers himself the founder of a town near the South Texas launch site he calls Starbase, has the intention to expand further. In June, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) completed its environmental review of SpaceX’s proposed missions. Although the federal agency has mandated 75 steps to mitigate damage, the FAA’s “No Significant Impact” finding paves the way for continued liftoffs of the world’s tallest rocket and the potential for continued and cumulative damage.
Activists also claim they are being harassed by the company, with the cooperation of local authorities. On Feb. 16, police broke into Rebekah Hinojosa’s Brownsville home and arrested her for allegedly posting graffiti under a Musk-funded mural — a misdemeanor charge that would normally result in at most a citation.
An organizer of Another Gulf is Possible, Hinojosa is an opponent of Space X’s rocket launch site on Boca Chica beach, which she says is causing environmental destruction and displacing people of color. After police freed Hinojosa a day later, the mayor of Brownsville posted his photo and workplace on social media.
“As an organizer and member of the Cameron County community, I consider it my duty to look after the well-being of our community. It is disappointing and disconcerting that someone speaking up to defend our home and our rights is singled out and persecuted for trying to uphold the welfare of others. I await release of the requested information so that we can have full transparency on the current situation,” said Rebekah Hinojosa, member of the Another Gulf Is Possible Collaborative.
Freedom of Information requests, filed on behalf of South Texas activists by LatinoJustice and the Center for Constitutional Rights, seek information from the following public agencies on the following issues:
- Brownsville Police Department documents and communications related to Hinojosa’s arrest
- Communications between Brownsville City Hall and SpaceX, and other agencies regarding the arrest of Ms. Hinojosa
- Information from the Cameron County prosecutor’s office on the detention of two SpaceX employees who have not been arrested
- Information from Cameron County on SpaceX’s proposal to dig a massive launch site tunnel at San Padre Island
- Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records relating to the agency’s information-gathering process for its environmental review of SpaceX’s impact on the community
The information requested from the FAA includes all public comments on the SpaceX rocket program received by the FAA during its review, a copy of two relevant emails sent by the FAA to “interested parties”, and a list of “interested parties”. “. ”
Residents are not only being prevented from accessing the beach by the company, they are being actively harmed, activists say. The musk has guest people from out of state to move into the area, contributing to the displacement of residents as the influx of wealthy newcomers drives up rents. SpaceX reportedly pressured residents of the village of Boca Chica to sell their homes through heavy-handed tactics such as warnings that launches would smash their windows. Cameron County and other elected officials facilitated the corporate takeover of Boca Chica Village and the beach, activists say, and most of the village, including the roads, is now owned by SpaceX. Anyone staying is forced to evacuate during the launches, which are often heard or felt by residents living even 10 miles away in Port Isabel and South Padre Island.
“It’s disappointing that county officials are more concerned with Elon Musk’s vanity project, SpaceX, than the well-being of their own residents. We await information from the Texas Public Information Act as we seek to uncover the truth between these local and federal agencies and corporations,” said Priscilla Lugo, Texas Justice Advocate Coordinator at LatinoJustice.
Many local officials have publicly welcomed Musk, who has pledged to donate $20 million to Brownsville schools and another $10 million to the city. Campaigners say that’s a pittance for one of the world’s richest people, especially in light of the billions he’s received in government grants, which include a 10-year tax break from Cameron County.
“Transparency is key when ongoing government-corporate collusion directly impacts the lives of community members,” said Ian Head, coordinator of the Center for Constitutional Rights Open Records Project. “Federal and local government agencies should immediately release all appropriate materials and documents so that Brownsville residents can have a better understanding of what their elected officials are doing.”
“The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has done a haphazard job of community outreach, public hearings and Spanish access in its review of the SpaceX license to launch the largest rocket in human history from our community. . Now we need to prepare as SpaceX continues its expansion and reach in our community because the FAA has left so many questions about explosions and beach access unanswered,” said Brownsville resident Emma Guevara. , TX. “We deserve transparency from the regulatory agency and city and county governments about the private space industry that is moving into our community.”
Read the requests here.