Palomar Airport Expansion: Part II: Examining FAA and County Environmental Documents, Blog #11

More FAA and County Environmental Ploys


Last week, we discussed Ploys 1, 2, & 3 that Palomar Airport environmental documents use to avoid full disclosure of airport project environmental impacts:  minimize the project scope, curtail the project alternatives, fudge the environmental baseline.  Today we consider two more ploys that hide Palomar project impacts.

Ploy 4: Redefine the term “Significant Impact.”  

The dictionary defines “significant” as  “noteworthy” and defines the term “nuisance” as causing inconvenience or annoyance. Under these dictionary definitions, a jury might well find that repeated aircraft flights over your house create significant noise and  nuisance.   But, Congress and the FAA have taken this decision out of a jury’s hands.  

The government has devised an arbitrary standard to determine if aircraft noise causes a significant impact, the so-called “CNEL” or Community Noise Equivalent Standard.    The government measures noise levels using the usual measure, “decibels [dBs].”  In the FAA’s eyes (ears), if noise levels are below 65 dBs, noise is insignificant.

How noisy is noisy?  A garbage disposal or dishwasher creates 80 dBs of noise to someone 50 feet away.   Freeway traffic or a vacuum cleaner creates about 70 dBs of noise to someone 50 feet away.  Libraries enjoy 40 dBs and a quiet rural area 30 dBs.  A propeller plane flyover at 1000 feet creates 88 dBs; a Boeing 707 creates 100 dBs at a distance of one nautical mile.  [airportnoiselaw.org/dblevels.html.]

Now assume 10 aircraft fly near your house in an hour with each flight creating 90 dBs of noise.  Perhaps each flight creates 2 minutes of 90 dBs noise.  According to the FAA, your CNEL noise level for that hour is 50 decibels.  The CNEL simply averages the hourly noise.   In our example [90 dBs for 20 minutes + 30 dBs for 20 minutes + 30 dBs for the remaining 20 minutes or 150 dBs divided by 3 = 50 dBs.]   

In other words, the CNEL averaging method allows the FAA to nix most noise complaints.   The good news?  If you weigh 300 pounds in a room with two teenagers 150 pounds each, you weigh only 200 FAA pounds [(300 + 150 + 150) divided by 3.]

Ploy 5: Ignore Cumulative and Growth Inducing Impacts

The federal Council on Environmental Quality [CEQ] guides federal government National Environmental Policy Act [NEPA] policy.   The CEQ defines “cumulative impacts” as those effects that result from incremental impacts of a proposed action when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions [See 40 Code of Federal Regulations 1508.7.]   The CEQ has also noted:

  • “Evidence is increasing that the most devastating environmental effects may result not from the direct effects of a particular action, but from the combination of individually minor effects of multiple actions over time.” [See CEQ January 1997, CEQ Guidance Regarding Cumulative Effects Introduction.] [“CEQ Guidance”]
  • In one study of the effectiveness of the “cumulative effects” analysis in federal environmental assessments, “nearly half of those failed to present evidence to support their conclusions concerning environmental effects.” [See CEQ Guidance, Agency Experience with Cumulative Effects Analysis.]


As noted in Blog #7, the Palomar Airport projects over the last 7 years have placed airport parking off the terminal, quadrupled the passenger terminal size, added a customs facility to promote cross border flights, rebuilt the runway to serve larger planes, expanded plane hangars, improved taxiways to increase runway efficiency, increased aviation fuel storage capacity to handle more planes, smoothed a 1000-foot landfill area as a runway safety area, and obtained FAA Part 139 certification to handle larger planes.

Yet the FAA’s California Pacific Airlines  [CPA] Environmental Assessment prepared in July 2012 failed to analyze the cumulative effects of the proposed initiation of new CPA service and the noted recent projects.   This failure also violates the related environmental analysis principle that requires “growth inducing impacts” to be disclosed and discussed.

When an airport increases its passenger-handling capacity and adds improvements to handle larger planes, it is foreseeable that the airport will attract more larger planes.   The failure of the FAA and County to provide the cumulative/growth inducing impact analysis is a rather blatant NEPA and CEQA violation.   

The good news?   The FAA guarantees the success of your 2013 diet.   Eat Hostess twinkies, ding dongs, and ho hos to maintain your strength and lose weight.  No need to worry about any growth inducing impact.  Ding dongs?  Hello.  Ho hos?  Tis the season.

Next Week: Blog 12, Palomar Airport Expansion: Part III: Still More FAA & County Environmental Ploys

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