Ornelas v. U.S. Air Force
On January 22, 2016 the Center filed a lawsuit in federal district court that challenges the environmental assessment (EA) and finding of no significant impact (FONSI) issued by the U.S. Air Force in connection with its approval of a plan to continue to expand the training program for visiting units at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The approved action will increase the annual number of sorties flown by visiting units at DMAFB to 2,326. This represents a dramatic increase in the number of sorties flown by visiting units in recent years (for example, according to the USAF, there were 519 TFT sorties in 2013, 888 in 2012, and 782 in 2011). The lawsuit asks the federal district court to declare the EA inadequate and order the USAF to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
The training program, formerly known as Operation Snowbird, began in 1972 as a wintertime-only program for A-7 and F-100 aircraft units from out of state. Over the years, the Air Force has not only expanded the program to year-round, but also opened the training program to a wide range of aircraft from all over the world, including F-18s and F-15s which are significantly louder than the A-10s stationed at DMAFB. The Air Force implemented that expansion over the course of several decades without undertaking the federally-required environmental analysis to evaluate the impact that it would have on the surrounding environment—in particular the long-established neighborhoods located within DM’s flight pattern. This lack of NEPA compliance came to light several years ago, and in response to public outcry, the USAF agreed to undertake the required analysis, albeit more than 30 years late.
The EA prepared by the USAF, however, fails to comply with NEPA’s requirements. Specifically, as detailed in the Complaint, among other deficiencies, the EA:
· fails to analyze the cumulative impacts of the TFT program,
· fails to adequately analyze the noise impacts that the increased number of visiting aircraft (which are often much noisier than the A-10s that make up the DMAFB fleet) will have on the nearby residents,
· fails to adequately address the health impacts that this increase in flights will have on nearby residents—particularly the health impacts to children, and
· fails to adequately address environmental justice issues.
The plaintiffs are seeking an objective and thorough environmental analysis as the law requires, including the identification of potential mitigation measures that could lessen the adverse impacts; they do not seek the cessation of theTFT program.