Elon Musk Is Facing Environmental Backlash from Rural Texas Neighbors

Concerns range from water pollution and septic tank authorization to traffic congestion.

Aerial shot of construction site surrounded by farmland
Aerial view of Elon Musk’s Snailbrook community under construction in Bastrop County. Brandon Bell/Getty Images

In the past year, Elon Musk has kicked off large-scale development projects in the rural Texan county of Bastrop, located outside Austin. Much of the county’s farmland is now home to construction sites building facilities for Musk’s SpaceX and the Boring Company, his tunneling venture.

The world’s second richest person is also planning on building a utopian town for his employees in Bastrop County. Known as “Snailbrook,” the community will include homes, a pool and a gym in neighborhoods spread across thousands of acres.

But despite the resulting job growth, not everyone is happy about Musk’s activities. Residents and local agencies are increasingly raising concerns over their new billionaire neighbor and the environmental effects of his vision in the region, as first reported by the Washington Post.

“I’m actually an Elon fan, so I was initially excited about what they would be doing,” said Bastrop County resident Chap Ambrose on the website for “Keep Bastrop Boring,” a campaign he launched to protect the community from alleged safety issues caused by Musk’s construction.

SpaceX and the Boring Company are bypassing public disclosure regulations in addition to environmental and ethical ones, according to Ambrose, who claims he was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement when requesting site drawings from the Boring Company, which are public record. “How can we trust them to do the right thing underground when they’ve shown contempt for our minimal, rural permitting process?” he said.

The resident has kept a close watch on Musk’s moves in his county, consistently posting footage of construction updates on Twitter and reporting violations to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). In November, Ambrose tweeted a video showing a hose from the SpaceX site pumping water into a nearby ditch. The company received a violation from TCEQ in April for “pumping sediment-laden water over silt fences into a drainage fence.”

The Boring Company has also received several TCEQ violations, including notices related to failures to obtain a permit for a pollution discharge system, design erosion controls, post-construction site notices and site inspections.

Man in hat waters plants, woman stands next to him.
Chap Ambrose and his wife Maura outside their home in Bastrop. Matthew Busch for The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has raised concerns over the Boring Company as well, warning the company in March 2022 that traffic from its unpermitted driveway was blocking the local highway. “Again, with the decision to construct this driveway with no permit or approval at the location chosen, all liability is on the Boring Company at this point in time,” said Mike Arellano, a deputy district engineer with the agency, in an email to Brian Gettinger, the former business development lead at Boring.

The next month, TxDOT employee Diana Schulze warned Brian that the driveway would be barricaded until a traffic control plan was provided, according to email records provided by the Keep Bastrop Boring campaign.

Boring has additionally faced violations from Bastrop County itself, which issued a notice in March 2022 for the company’s installation of unauthorized sewage tanks. “Regarding the Boring Company, we have been regularly hounded by their staff and consultants to expedite and approve permit regulations that are incomplete and not in compliance with Commissioners Court (CC) regulations, and who are currently under [a notice of violation] for non-compliant septic operations,” wrote Robert Pugh, the then-director of engineering and development services at Bastrop County, in a June email to a colleague.

Is Elon Musk turning the county into the ‘Wild West?’

In March, tensions between the Boring Company and Bastrop residents came to a head. After learning that SpaceX and Boring were seeking permits to discharge more than 140,000 gallons into the nearby Colorado River daily, TCEQ organized a public hearing. At the meeting, locals urged for higher penalty fees against the companies and questioned why they couldn’t use the region’s existing wastewater system.

While Musk didn’t attend the meeting, SpaceX manager Nick Picon told residents that the company plans to eventually fold into the local system, but that doing so now would interrupt construction.

“Suddenly this bucolic, pastoral prime farmland is now more than a thousand acres of an industrial site,” Skip Connett, a local organic farmer, told the Washington Post. “There’s no zoning, there are no rules. It’s the Wild West.”

This isn’t the first time Musk’s Texan ventures have led to local pushback. Following the explosion of a Starship rocket from SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas, a group of environmental organizations filed a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Claiming the FAA failed to mitigate the environmental harms of the launch program, the lawsuit alleged that particulate matter from the explosion put local wildlife at risk, including a nearby habitat for protected species.

SpaceX and Boring did not respond to requests for comment.

Elon Musk Is Facing Environmental Backlash from Rural Texas Neighbors