Safe Skies Submits Final F-35 Fighter Jets Lawsuit Brief over the Environmental Impact Statement

December 12, 2022

On March 10, 2021, Safe Skies with Kathleen Henry as our attorney filed suit in the Federal District Court of the District of Columbia against the Air Force, claiming their EIS for the F-35 fighter jets to be deployed to Truax Field in Madison was inadequate. We told the court the Air Force needed to stop the project including construction at Truax Field until the Air Force addressed the problems with the EIS.

On September 24, 2021, Safe Skies asked the judge to allow us to expand the record for the EIS which was already 70,000 pages. We wanted to provide newer information on the impacts of noise exposure, the extent of the PFAS contamination by the Air National Guard and their failure to clean it up. It wasn’t until this year on September 30, 2022 that the judge ruled we could not expand the record, and required us to submit our file arguments by December 12th.

Today we submitted our final brief and arguments. This included affidavits from people affected by noise and PFAS, Ed Blume and Tehmina Islam, and myself representing Safe Skies and providing new opinions about environmental impacts. We were able to incorporate some more recent information like the results of the FAA neighborhood environmental survey which shows the 65 dB DNL noise standard used in the EIS (and the recent county airport noise modeling) was inadequate. We also included the USEPA decision last summer to lower the allowable PFAS in water to levels that are 1,000 to 10,000 times lower than the DNR standard.

Our supporting brief or memorandum is attached. Below are conclusions we want the judge to accept.

We are feeling confident because last August another federal district judge ruled against the Navy for the EIS it prepared for the growler jets on Whidbey Island near Seattle. “A U.S. District Court judge ruled Tuesday that the Navy violated federal law in an environmental study of expanded Whidbey Island jet operations that failed to quantify the noise impacts on classroom learning as well as other shortcomings.”

The Air Force is using attorneys at the Department of Justice. They have 45 days to respond to the attached brief, then we have about 15 days to reply, then DOJ has 15 days to reply, and then (about February 25th) the Court has everything on which to decide.


WHEREFORE, Plaintiff respectfully requests that the Court grant its motion for summary judgment and enter judgment:

1. Declaring that:

A. Defendants, in issuing an EIS and ROD, failed to comply with NEPA by having a predetermined outcome;
B. Defendants failed to take a hard look at detrimental noise impacts in violation of NEPA and its implementing regulations;
C. Defendants violated NEPA by failing to adequately consider the cumulative impacts of increased PFAS on already-polluted drinking, ground surface water and fish in the Starkweather Creek and Yahara chain of lakes watersheds water;
D. Defendants violated NEPA by failing to adequately consider environmental justice impacts in violation of NEPA and its implementing regulations;
E. Defendants violated NEPA by failing to take a hard look at air quality impacts of the F-35As;
F. Defendants violated NEPA by failing to adequately address alternatives;
G. Defendants violated NEPA by failing to adequately consider climate change;
H. Defendants violated NEPA and the APA by failing to provide adequate notice and public participation;
I. Defendants violated NEPA and the APA by failing to produce a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement;
J. Defendants violated NEPA by failing to take a hard look at impacts on wildlife in violation of NEPA and its implementing regulations;
K. Defendants violated the APA by failing to comply with NEPA; and
L. Defendants’ actions and proposals are arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, in excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority, and limitations, without observance of procedure required by law, unsupported by substantial evidence and unwarranted by the facts, in violation of the APA.

2. Enjoining the defendants and all others acting in concert with them from carrying on or permitting any activities in furtherance of the construction of the Proposed Action until such time as the defendants prepare an adequate EIS and a supplemental EIS, the sufficiency of the environmental impact statements to be determined by this Court.

3. Awarding plaintiff such other and further relief as the Court may deem just and proper, including costs, attorneys’ fees, expert witness fees and other expenses of litigation;  Awarding such other relief as the Court deems just and proper.

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No F-35 Letter Released

International Coalition Calls On Biden To End F-35 Program


An international coalition of anti-F-35 activists gathered virtually today, announcing an open letter calling on President Biden to end the manufacturing and training of F-35 fighter jets. The letter, organized by CodePink, a national grassroots anti-war organization, is signed by over 220 organizations across the world, including dozens in Madison and Wisconsin. 

The letter calls on President Biden and members of Congress to end the F-35 program, remove the jets from residential neighborhoods, and end the sale of jets to foreign companies.

This comes as F-35 fighter jets  are scheduled to bed down at Truax Field, on Madison’s northside, in spring 2023. The National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing based at Truax is one of the first units across the country to fly the F-35s, the latest version of the jets. But that beddown is coming despite immense community pushback. For years, activists have pushed back on the noise, pollution, and security of having the jets based on Madison’s north side. 

According to the Air National Guard’s own  final environmental impact statement released in  2020, replacing the recently-departed F-16 jets at Truax Airfield with F-35 jets will not come quietly. While the impact statement showed that around 2,700 people would be subjected to an average sound level of around 65 decibels, or around the volume of a vacuum, the report does not outline how loud the jets will be when landing or takeoff. 

Speaking at today’s press conference was Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. Ben and Jerry’s  is headquartered in Burlington, Vermont –where F-35 jets first touched down near a residential neighborhood in 2019, despite a similar level of community campaigning to stop the jets from coming. 

According to a 2012 environmental impact statement for the F-35 program in Burlington, the noise level for an F-35 on takeoff is estimated at 115 decibels, louder than a car horn and a rock concert, and just quieter than a siren. Prolonged exposure to noise over 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing loss. Exposure to noise above 120 decibels for more than half a minute can cause hearing loss.

Cohen says that, when the jets came to Vermont, he created a plan to help residents know just how loud they would be.

“The extreme level of noise is a little loud to understand, you can hear decibel numbers but nobody can really relate to it. We created a mobile sound truck that replicated the sound of a F-35, and we were driving it around and the police call-in numbers lit up from complaints in the community, and I was arrested for violating the noise ordinance. It showed that the level of noise was illegal, but the Pentagon gets an exception,” Cohen says. 

But the F-35s still landed in Vermont, where thousands of people lived within the noise-affected area, considered generally unsuitable for residential use by the US Air Force. 

The letter points to a variety of health impacts of the jets beyond hearing loss – causing low birth weights in newborns, delayed speech development, and difficulties with concentration. Vicki Berenson with Safe Skies Clean Water Wisconsin was one of the speakers today. She says she’s worried for the people who live around the airport when the F-35s land on Madison’s north side in just a few months.

“I know people who have sold their homes and moved away in anticipation of the F-35s arrival next year. Loud jets, and we have been told that there will be 40% more flights than the F-16s that have been here for years. Not everyone has the means to move, the airbase is located in one of the only remaining affordable neighborhoods in Madison, so there is nowhere to go if you up and sell,” Berenson says. 

Taxpayer cost of the jets is another issue mentioned in CodePink’s letter. The letter says that, as of today, the total cost for the country’s F-35 project is $1.7 trillion, most of which stems from the costs of operations and maintenance over the next 66 years.

The letter points to a report from the US Government Accountability Office, or GAO, informally known as the congressional watchdog. The report, published in April of this year, says that even if the Department of Defense stays on schedule with the program (they are currently behind), one-third of the F-35 jets purchased by the department would not undergo full testing, meaning that those jets could potentially see even more maintenance and performance-enhancing costs over time.

 Speaking at the press conference today was Kawthar Abdullah with the Yemeni Alliance Committee, a group of Yemeni organizers working to educate people on the Yemen war. Abdullah says that another issue with the F-35s is what could happen if the US sells the jets to foreign countries.

“Over 300,000 Yemenis have been killed (in the war). One can only imagine what they would do with access to F-35s. For me, as a Yemeni-American who has lived in Yemen during (the aggression), I can tell you first-hand how hard and painful it is to see your home reduced to ashes by Saudi airstrikes in a matter of seconds. Providing F-35s to Saudi Arabia and UAE would potentially mean more airstrikes, indiscriminate airstrikes, airstrikes on homes, supermarkets, schools, farms, public roads, soccer stadiums, hospitals, buses filled with children, and other civilian places,” Abdullah says. 

Of the over 220 letter signees are at least eighteen groups and businesses from Madison, with another at least 16 groups across  Wisconsin. One of those groups is 350 Wisconsin, a Madison-based grassroots organization fighting to solve the climate crisis by 2030. John Greenler, Executive Director of 350 Wisconsin, says he signed the letter because he thinks the letter shows how F-35s are both a local and global issue.

“There are a number of clear examples of how F-35s are a significant concern in terms of climate change. Those range from things that are really specific to us here in Madison, to how things are playing on the global arena as well. This scales out significantly,” Greenler says. 

The first F-35s are expected to arrive in April 2023, with all jets slated to arrive in Madison by May 2024, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 

Photo courtesy: Chali Pittman / WORT Flickr

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Ground the )PF-35

Ground the F-35 ARTICLE BANK:

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Open letter to Tammy Baldwin ad in MJS & Cap Times

An Open Letter to Senator Tammy Baldwin


Here's a copy of the full-page ad that will run in Sunday's WI State Journal, and half page in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

 Buy the paper, read the ad, clip it out, and then send it to Tammy Baldwin's office with a personal note. 
More info:
Tom Boswell 608/718-7312 [email protected]
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I’m a midwife on Madison’s north side, and the F-35s will harm the families I care for


The fighter jets will intensify noise and chemical pollution that threaten the health of babies and parents.

Illustration by Shaysa Sidebottom.

I live in one of the neighborhoods that would be most impacted if F-35 fighter jets should bed down at Madison’s Truax Field. I bought my home in Eken Park five years ago and was drawn to the racial and economic diversity of this neighborhood......



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Tell Lockheed Martin to Begin Conversion to Peaceful Industries

Lockheed Martin is by far the largest weapons producer in the world. From Ukraine to Yemen, from Palestine to Colombia, from Somalia to Syria, from Afghanistan and West Papua to Ethiopia, no one profits more from war and bloodshed than Lockheed Martin.

Sign this petition to Lockheed Martin to urge immediate conversion from weapons manufacturing to peaceful industries for economic, environmental, and survival reasons! We will be delivering this petition to Lockheed Martin's headquarters and various other Lockheed Martin locations as part of the Global Mobilization to #StopLockheedMartin (April 21-28, 2022).

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F-35 Jet Foes Submit Environmental Justice Complaint to EPA – March 23, 2022

F-35 Jet Foes Submit Environmental Justice Complaint to EPA – March 23, 2022

Read the full complaint: Safe Skies EPA Administrative Complaint – Mar.23.2022


For Immediate Release (PDF)
March 23, 2022
F-35 Jet Foes Submit Environmental Justice Complaint to EPA

Today Safe Skies Clean Water Wisconsin submitted an Environmental Justice Complaint to the USEPA Administrator Michael Regan under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The complaint asks the EPA to intervene in the Air Force decision to deploy a squadron of F-35A fighter jets to the Wisconsin Air National Guard at Truax Field in Madison.

Safe Skies contends that the Civil Rights Act has been violated by the Air Force, and state, county and local leaders, because the greatest negative environmental impacts of the jets will fall on the low-income families and families of color that live adjacent to the Dane County Regional Airport and Truax Field. The Air Force prepared Environmental Impact Statements evaluating five potential sites for the jets and selected the only two where there would be “disproportionate impacts to low-income, minority populations, and children.” The sites selected for the F-35 jets were Madison and Montgomery, Alabama.

The complaint names the following parties for their participation in the violation of Title VI: the Wisconsin Air National Guard and Adjutant General Paul Knapp; the State of Wisconsin and Governor Tony Evers; the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and its Secretary, Preston Cole; Dane County and County Executive Joseph Parisi; Dane County Regional Airport and its Director, Kimberly Jones; and, the City of Madison and its Mayor, Satya Rhodes-Conway. Safe Skies contends that State, County and local leaders are complicit in promoting environmental injustice and environmental racism due to their approval, support or acquiescence in locating the squadron of F-35 fighter jets at Truax Field.

The Biden Administration has “pledged an aggressive, broad-based approach to achieve environmental justice.” The president has formalized his commitment “to make environmental justice a part of the mission of every agency by directing federal agencies to develop programs, policies, and activities to address the disproportionate health, environmental, economic, and climate impacts on disadvantaged communities.”

“Safe Skies Clean Water is asking President Biden and his administration to stay true to their word,” said Safe Skies leader Steve Klafka. “This complaint gives the Biden Administration an opportunity to do the right thing by low-income and people of color in Madison.”

There are more than 60,000 people who live within three miles of Truax Field, as well as 17 K-12 public schools, ten private schools, 13 nursery and child care centers and a school for children with special needs less than a mile from the airport runway. According to a 2018 neighborhood study by the City of Madison, kids in the Truax area are struggling even before they start school, with only 48 percent considered “kindergarten ready.” One of the schools destined to suffer the worst noise impacts is Hawthorne Elementary, where most children are low-income and of color. According to city staff, almost every impacted area with the greatest noise exposure belongs to a census tract with rates of persons of color well above city and county-wide averages.

Melina Lozano teaches at Hawthorne Elementary School, less than a mile from the county airport and Truax Field. Lozano feels the training flights by existing F-16 fighter jets already disrupt the education of her students and will worsen with the proposed F-35 jets. “As a public school educator, I have seen first hand how much the F-16 fighter jets affect student learning. Teaching stops when students are distracted by the loud jets flying over the school throughout the day. Students lose track of the lesson and their learning is interrupted. Most of our students come from low-income and families of color that already struggle to succeed. The education of our students will suffer further due to the Air National Guard plans for louder and more frequent F-35 fighter jet training.”

The Environmental Impact Statement estimated there would be 2,766 people and 1,318 households living within the 65-decibel noise contour the FAA considers incompatible with residential housing. These people would qualify for noise mitigation funds for relocation or noise insulation. However, based on the experience of residents in the Burlington, Vermont region, mitigation would not be complete until 2060.

The Air Force and Wisconsin Air National Guard are responsible for contamination of area groundwater but they have failed to fully investigate the extent of the contamination or develop a plan for its removal. Fish contaminated by PFAS are consumed by local residents. The taxpayer cost for Dane County’s squadron of F-35s jets will be $2,206,000,000, but does not include funds for PFAS cleanup. Construction has begun to accommodate the F-35 jets on land with groundwater contaminated with PFAS thousands of times greater than proposed state standards.

Maria Powell, Executive Director of Madison Environmental Justice Organization, applauded Safe Skies submission of the complaint. She said: “The Air Force and Air National Guard plan to bring F-35 fighter jets to Madison will double down on a long history of environmental injustice and racism which surround the Dane County airport. An environmental justice inquiry by the federal EPA is long overdue. For decades, city and county officials have looked the other way as low income and families of color have been exposed to the airport’s noise and water pollution. Officials have failed to address PFAS pollution spewing from the airport, burn pits, military base, former Truax Landfill and Burke sewage plant into Starkweather Creek, the Yahara Chain of Lakes, and the fish consumed by many low-income subsistence anglers. The current race and class-based disparities in pollution exposure have not been addressed, and the arrival of the noisier F-35 fighter jets will only worsen these unacceptable living conditions. We hope the EPA responds aggressively to the Safe Skies complaint and stops the blatant environmental racism promoted by the Air Force and Air National Guard.”

Safe Skies has asked the EPA to intervene and stop the arrival of the F-35 jets. If the jets cannot be stopped, a community remediation program must be immediately developed to address the environmental impacts on Madison residents. To address noise impacts this program would include funds for the government to purchase impacted homes, relocation of residents, and soundproofing of impacted homes, schools and businesses. To address existing PFAS contamination of water resources, construction for the new jets would stop until there is a comprehensive program to investigate and clean up PFAS contamination. The plan would pay for water filtration on homes, schools, and public and private wells. There would be a clean fish exchange program for contaminated fish caught in Starkweather Creek and the Yahara Chain of Lakes.

Co-sponsors to the environmental justice complaint include numerous local religious, environmental and educational organizations representing the residents who are concerned about the health and safety of the Madison community. These include Midwest Environmental Advocates, the Madison Environmental Justice Organization, Wisconsin Environmental Health Network, Madison Teachers Inc. and the Madison Board of Education. They call out the Air Force, as well as state, county and local leaders, for promoting environmental injustice and racism.

The environmental justice complaint was prepared for Safe Skies by the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. The full text of the complaint is attached and is also available on the organization’s website:

For more information, contact:

Steven Klafka, P.E., BCEE, Environmental Engineer
Safe Skies Clean Water Wisconsin
[email protected]

Nicholas J. Schroeck, Director, Environmental Law Clinic
University of Detroit Mercy School of Law
[email protected]

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Living Under Warplanes with Documentarian Nina Berman

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F-35 and the Military Industrial Complex in Madison WI

An article by the editor of Tone Magazine, an online magazine in Madison, concerning the F-35 and the military industrial complex.


The military-industrial complex in Madison

Those applying this foundational concept to the F-35s debate have a point. 

 Yes, it's fine to talk about the military-industrial complex in Madison

Illustration: Digital collage of an F-35 jet flying over Starkweather Creek. Money is burning in the jet fuel stream and waves of bright toxic green emanate from the F-35. Illustration by M.Rose Sweetnam.

What do we talk about when we talk about people talking about the military-industrial complex? 


Those most deeply involved in activism on the issue have articulated a complex and intertwined set of reasons why basing the jets here would be a bad idea—especially its impact on water quality, housing, and childhood development. They use the phrase "military-industrial complex" often enough, but their analysis goes beyond shorthand. Their motivations are much more immediate than simply taking a moral posture against militarism in the abstract.

Former general and Republican president Dwight Eisenhower popularized this concept, warning that lavish military budgets would enrich a "permanent armaments industry of vast proportions," create political imbalances, and leave society with fewer resources to invest in basic human needs. Most Americans didn't listen very well. 

We do have to take Eisenhower with a truckload of salt here. He helped create one part of the complex that plays a significant role in Madison, after all. Military agencies provide tens of millions of dollars in funding to researchers at UW-Madison every year, an awkward fact of life that stems directly from Eisenhower signing the legislation that created the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Eisenhower’s administration also oversaw the expansion of the surveillance state and covert military operations, from CIA-backed coups in Guatemala and Iran to the groundwork of the ultimately disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba. Not to mention his role in American meddling in Southeast Asia, which would curdle into extensive covert and overt military action.  

But you can see why the moral and practical force of Eisenhower's "cross of iron" speech still resonates:

This world in arms is not spending money alone.

It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than thirty cities.

It is: two electric power plants, each serving a town of sixty thousand population.

It is: two fine, fully equipped hospitals.

It is: some fifty miles of concrete highway.

We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than eight thousand people.

This—I repeat—is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking.

This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

Militarism, education, healthcare, food, housing, civilian infrastructure, all bound up in one massive and delicate balance. It suggests a sort of "it's all connected!" thinking that has long been unfashionable in our political culture. Still, as we debate fighter jets past and present, we are seeing the trade-offs play out in real time. The over-investment in weapons does leave other needs unmet, and causes plenty of new problems. The Madison area's schools and healthcare systems are struggling under the pressure of a COVID-19 pandemic, we don't have a solid game plan for affordable housing, and we have thousands of neighbors who, as Ike put it, "hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."


When the "military-industrial complex" framing comes up in pro-jet arguments, it becomes not just an object of ridicule but an oversimplified straw man. A recent cartoon in the Wisconsin State Journal sets up a scenario where the anti-F-35 crowd is putting people out on the street and standing in the way of new housing development just to make a point, willing to let others suffer if it gives them a hit of smug moral superiority. Cartoonist Phil Hands (he of cursed dick) doesn't actually use the phrase in the cartoon, but writes in the accompanying text that "Madison leaders would rather play politics with the 'military industrial complex' and F-35s than deal with Madison's lack of affordable homes." 

The cartoon depicts an archetypal be-turtlenecked old white hippie with a graying ponytail talking down to a homeless man in the rain, saying: "On the bright side, at least you don't have to live in an affordable apartment near the flight path of the F-35s." One could get into a whole thing about the bizarre racial inversions in Hands' cartoons, but suffice it to say that a lot of the folks at the forefront of anti-jet activism in Madison are in fact poor and working-class people of color. The sort of person he's drawing here seems a bit more like someone who owns a $400,000 house on the near-East Side and flips out about the occasional outdoor concert.

Framing the anti-jet crowd as callous housing obstructionists lets some key people off the hook. Namely those who have been cheering on the F-35s and downplaying the risk, without considering that it may be extremely impractical and economically short-sighted to base fighter jets in a rapidly growing urban area that badly needs to create more housing. Madison has boned itself on this. At whose expense? People who already have a hard enough time finding decent housing they can afford. At the expense of a North Side that will no doubt change, but deserves a chance to change on its own diverse, gloriously marshy terms. 

Military and business leaders promise jobs and an economic boost for the Madison area. They have traded up for a very expensive wrench that will now be hurled into every decision-making process about development in the flight path for the foreseeable future. And however much people quibble about and minimize the noise F-35s will create compared to the F-16s already based at Truax, the impacts of this sort of thing are already here and already costing us.

Dane County officials are already pursuing litigation over PFAS pollution, a problem deeply intertwined with both civilian and military aviation. You already can't take a walk along Starkweather Creek without seeing warning signs about the contamination. More costs are likely to fall on local governments, as state and federal governments don't have anywhere near an adequate handle on this issue. The business lobby and the courts have limited state environmental regulators' ability to control PFAS thus far, which will make any kind of accountability an uphill battle. At the federal level, too, we are playing catch-up. There are significant obstacles to suing the military over PFAS contamination.


We in Wisconsin and Dane County aren't equipped to deal with the environmental damage that has already happened related to fighter jets, much less the pollution we risk going forward. The pro-jet folks would have us proceed without real plans or capabilities for handling the downside. We already struggle to maintain the health of our local watershed—the bodies of water that give the area so much of its appeal and are a mighty economic asset in their own right. And to these challenges we have added the legal and scientific unknowns of PFAS.

This is sold to us as the pragmatic, wise, sober, cool-headed road. They say none of this will get bad, we can mitigate the sound impacts, and anyways, look, the military says it's fine. Never mind that the F-35 has gone through a series of costly delays and design problems. It's a bad bet even to a lot of people who are otherwise fine with dumping trillions of dollars into the military. You don't even have to have a problem with the military-industrial complex to criticize the F-35 program—in this case, it really is not military-industrial complexing all that effectively. 

When people balk at the "military-industrial complex" framing of the issue, it's because Americans often feel the need to convince themselves that their views are entirely pragmatic, above the fray of ideology and politically charged concepts. Invariably, self-styled pragmatists like Hands do have their own share of assumptions and frameworks—whether they care to examine those is another question. But the folks opposing F-35s tend to come to it from a deeply practical perspective. And a concept is useful when it is staring you in the face.

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