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Beto O’Rourke lends support to SpaceX expansion in South Texas with ‘necessary oversight’

Beto O'Rourke holds a campaign rally in McAllen, Texas on Wednesday November 17, 2021.
Pablo De La Rosa/Texas Public Radio
Beto O'Rourke holds a campaign rally in McAllen, Texas on Wednesday November 17, 2021.

In a campaign stop in the Rio Grande Valley Wednesday, Texas Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Beto O’Rourke lent his support to the expansion of SpaceX on Boca Chica Beach — a county park 20 miles outside of Brownsville.

O’Rourke told TPR he has met with local officials, including Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez and Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, and he believes a balance can be struck between economic growth and environmental protection.

“Whether it's oil and gas, or even renewable energy, or SpaceX at Boca Chica and in Brownsville, we have extraordinary economic opportunity and job growth opportunities here,” he said. “But we've got to make sure that we also have the necessary oversight to protect public health, to protect our natural resources, and to make sure that we can pass on to the next generation something just as good or better than what we received in this generation.”

SpaceX is preparing to launch the largest rocket in the history of spaceflight. If permitted by federal regulators, it will lift off from the beach-side facility at the southern tip of Texas. But residents and researchers have criticized the permitting process, saying the company has flouted rules — at the expense of the environment, and the community.

Local concerns about SpaceX range from blocked access to public parks and beaches to long term ecological damage.

"He should meet with the residents of the Rio Grande Valley who have expressed deep concern about the impacts of SpaceX on people, gentrification, indigenous sacred sites, and endangered wildlife habitat," said Dave Cortez, director of the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter, after the campaign event. "He should take the time to consider the vast negative impacts posed by the industrialization of some of our last pristine coastline in Texas."

"Beto stood with fronterizas who were concerned about pollution from the Asarco Copper smelter in El Paso, and we call on him to do the same for the people of the Rio Grande Valley," added Cortez.

Related:SpaceX prepares to launch largest rocket ever despite ongoing FAA review

The Federal Aviation Administration said it will complete its environmental assessment of the SpaceX expansion in the Rio Grande Valley by the end of the year.

Several environmental advocacy groups have criticized the draft version of the FAA’s review, which was released in September. Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Chief Operating Officer Clayton Wolf was concerned with SpaceX’s plans, writing in a Nov. 1 letter that the site expansion plans were unclear and they would impact federally protected species.

Related: FAA says it will finish environmental assessment of SpaceX facility in South Texas by year’s end

“We've got to make sure that industry does not run roughshod over the people of Texas,” O’Rourke told TPR. “That’s ultimately what happened with the power grid, where we allowed industry to call the shots because of the campaign contributions they made. And we never forced them to weatherize the grid or protect the public health or to ensure that the grid would not collapse and we wouldn't lose hundreds of lives. So, lesson learned — for sure — for all of Texas in February of 2021. Let's not repeat the mistakes in that or any other industry.”

Dominic Anthony Walsh and Gaige Davila contributed to this report. 

Pablo De La Rosa is a freelance journalist reporting statewide with Texas Public Radio and nationally with NPR from the Texas-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley, from where he originates. He’s the host of the daily Spanish-language newscast TPR Noticias Al Día.