By David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition (with contributions by Jamie L. Banks, Jeanne Kempthorne and Gina M. Briggs)
The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the airport noise case brought by the town of East Hampton, Long Island (of The Hamptons in New York).
This is an important case that The Quiet Coalition wrote about back in January and March. This case is significant as it addresses an important issue of public health, because noise not only causes hearing problems, it also contributes to heart disease and other conditions.
There are 15,000 airports in the USA, 5200 of which have paved runways, and 376 have regularly scheduled flights. That’s a lot of neighborhoods and people exposed to the pollution and noise from take-offs and landings! Perhaps now that the Supreme Court has denied their petition for a writ of certiorari (i.e., seeking review of a lower court decision), the East Hampton group will join the 36 communities in the National Quiet Skies Coalition and press their congressional representatives to join the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus. The Caucus has already petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and submitted a bill to Congress. But it’s going to take many more communities joining the battle to win this one.
Many people around the U.S.—on both sides of the airport noise problem—were watching to see what the Supreme Court would do. What the Court did was let the Second Circuit Court decision stand. That decision had invalidated the town’s restrictions on flights to and from the East Hampton Airport—which the town owns–after finding that the town did not have the right to impose the restrictions owing to a 1990 federal law that “limits the town’s authority to impose rules at the airport.” NOTE: The FAA’s argument relied on federal preemption, and, in particular, the Town’s failure to comply with the procedural requirements of the federal Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990. The Second Circuit held that the Act applied even though the Town was had forgone federal funding for the airport.
Many locals were unhappy, with one telling the New York Times:
“The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case was ‘indicative of the fact that when it comes to our own airport, we don’t have local control,’ said Barry Raebeck…. ‘It strikes me as decidedly unjust, as un-American. This is what we’re all about, local control. We have federal agencies dictating. I consider the F.A.A. a lobbying group for airport operators. You don’t have any rights unless you’re in an airplane in their minds.’”
Is this the end of the matter? No. But getting a case to the Supreme Court is a long, time-consuming, and expensive process. We congratulate those who have been waging this battle so far and urge them: PLEASE TAKE THE NEXT STEP! We’re reminded of Theodore Roosevelt who said:
“…Credit belongs to the [people] who are actually in the arena…who err and come up short…who spend [themselves] for a worthy cause; who…know the triumph of high achievement, and who, if they fail, fail while daring greatly; [their] place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
We believe the key to winning the airport noise battle—indeed all battles about noise in America—is to challenge the FAA’s (and its parent, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s) long-held and politically convenient view that noise is “merely annoyance” with no appreciable effects on health or well-being. This is unfounded. In fact, the adverse health effects of noise are strongly supported by decades of authoritative evidence from medical and public health professionals. The use of the term “annoyance” is a shibboleth; that is, a term used to characterize the problem that is fundamentally wrong.
Noise control advocates now need to re-focus their efforts on the public health effects of noise—for which solid scientific evidence exists and continues to grow–and go back to court with new arguments until this battle is won.
David Sykes chairs/co-chairs four national professional groups in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, ANSI S12 WG44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group. He is also a board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founder of the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and a contributor to “Technology for a Quieter America” (2011, National Academy of Engineering). A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.