A Letter To Adam Smith Re. ANCA

Dear Congressman, Per my public comment today.

I would like you to consider creating legislation to provide some very minor changes to the 1990 ANCA law. I’ve included the specifics in the attachment. As you will see, the changes I would like to see represent a total of merely eleven (11) lines of text. In short, the current law keeps all enforcement of noise complaints with the FAA. The proposed changes simply revert the law to the pre-1990 state, where affected entities (classes, cities) could directly seek redress in court with an airport operator like the Port Of Seattle.

As background, a large unwritten purpose of ANCA is clearly to protect airport operators from lawsuits over noise. Before the law, operators such as the Port Of Seattle were inundated with lawsuits (you mentioned this in your opening remarks today. What you may not remember is how successful those lawsuits were in controlling the growth of Sea-Tac Airport.) The operators and airlines lobbied heavily for the current ANCA language in order to make it impossible to block airport growth due to community noise complaints.

I represent one hundred and sixty home owners who have received Port Packages (noise remediation primarily in the form of windows and insulation).  Their Port Packages have failed in various ways causing each thousands of dollars of damage. So in total, we’re talking about millions of dollars in damages. Beyond that, when Port Packages fail they frequently cause mold which is not only very expensive to remediate but also dangerous to human health (Coincidentally, my City Of Des Moines just shut down two local restaurants for testing positive for mold. That should give you an idea of how seriously local health agencies consider the problem.)

Under the current ANCA (and State of Washington) law, homeowners are severely restricted from suing the Port Of Seattle for such damages. In exchange for a perpetual benefit to the airlines and the Port Of Seattle, the residents receive a faulty noise remediation package and risk harm to their health for which they cannot be compensated.

With regard to your work on many related issues, such as expanding the DNL boundaries, I appreciate your efforts, but again one runs into the problem that there are many areas that do not technically fit within the boundary, but are still quite unpleasant to live in. And again, those homeowners can obtain no relief. To add insult to injury, using the FAA’s methodology for computing DNL, the boundary area around Sea-Tac Airport continues to shrink as the airlines (slowly) upgrade their fleets. So even though the number of flights continue to rapidly increase, the number of families entitled to mitigation under the law is actually decreasing.

Your Quiet Skies Caucus’ efforts on our behalf have been laudable, but may I suggest that you can obtain the most benefit for your constituents by working diligently to implement my above suggestion. I say this for the following reason: We have a whole suite of problems that need addressing; some you know about and some you don’t. But to have to take each one to the Federal level for relief has not been an efficient manner of obtaining relief.

What I am proposing, by making this small change, is to allow us to attack the problem. Because I can assure you, if that ANCA law did not prevent locals from successfully challenging the Port? Our problems would already be well on the way to being solved. We will take care of these issues if you can simply untie our hands and give us the ability to do so. And as proof I offer the fact that operators like the Port fought so hard to get that language into ANCA in the first place. They realised that preventing litigation was a key (if not the key) to enabling their growth.

The challenge, of course, is that the lobbying effort against making such changes will be profound. I will be frank and tell you that I am concerned about your empathy in this regard because I know that you have to balance the needs and desires of your other constituents that profit so much from the unimpeded growth of Sea-Tac Airport. All I can do is hope that you will try to understand two things:

1. Enough is enough. The airport has had almost twenty years now of ‘free money’; essentially no regulation on pollution or noise. That has enabled Sea-Tac specifically to achieve a windfall of record-breaking revenues derived not just from increased numbers of flights but from the fact that those flights have been so inexpensive without having to pay for the externalities of noise and pollution controls. And we simply cannot wait another twenty years for a second airport or some other Deus Ex Machina. We need help now. Our communities are dying.

2. As you pointed out in your reply to me, the rest of King County and the State Of Washington always votes pro-growth, so the airport is not subject to any market forces or other system of reasonable controls. Giving us the ability to obtain relief through the courts is the only way to achieve justice.

In closing, I believe in change at the local level. I believe we should solve our problems on our own whenever possible and on this issue in particular because our region needs to learn how to thrive on our own living next to our very large neighbour. However ANCA is such an overbearing law that it makes it impossible for communities like SeaTac and Des Moines to ever achieve their potential. Until the balance of power gets adjusted a little bit more in the right direction we will never be able to overcome the tremendous sociological problems we face. Won’t you help? All it takes is someone like you with the courage and persistence to change those eleven lines of text.

Looking forward to your positive reply.


The Congressmen opened his Town Meeting today with a series of remarks on the wide variety of activities he is engaged in to help the airport communities around Sea-Tac. He mentioned that the Port Of Seattle was doing better in terms of community relations “compared with the 80’s and 90’s when we were suing them all the time. Back then they just would tell us all to go to hell.”

But what people need to realize is that the source of the majority of our problems stem from a single Federal law called ANCA, passed in 1990 which put an end to all those lawsuits almost overnight. ANCA granted airport operators like the Port Of Seattle almost total immunity from any legal action from flight operations and further put all enforcement of noise complaints in the hands of the FAA. Community relations with the Port have always improved during periods where they do not feel threatened by us.

And the Congressman seems to have forgotten that those lawsuits worked. Before ANCA, lawsuits by communities around the nation were extremely effective in obtaining relief. By changing ANCA to once again allow for those types of legal actions it would immediately give groups like SeaTacNoise.Info a powerful tool in achieving justice for the airport communities.

The Congressman has to balance the interests of the airport communities with the wider interests of the rest of his District–which includes some of the biggest players in defense as well as Sea-Tac Airport and its vendors. It is much easier to ask him to fund environmental studies or make changes to DNL65, glide slopes, etc. Those are good things to change, but they are changes around the margins.

Changing eleven lines in ANCA seems trivial by comparison, but it would in fact be a hundred times more important for our communities. But it would be fought to the bitter end by the airlines and the Port Of Seattle.

Perhaps the issues Mr. Smith is working on are all he can realistically be expected to do for us given the political realities. However… we should recognize that there is more that could be done. The trick is to find a balance between, “Thanks for what you’re currently doing” and “But… could you please turn your attention to..?”

3 Replies to “A Letter To Adam Smith Re. ANCA”

  1. Dude, this is so awesome! You have totally nailed it with this critique of the ANCA. The ANCA is designed to make sure that the aviation industry never faces any meaningful regulation of their noise and other pollution. It is nothing more than a massive corporate giveaway to the airline industry, and Democrats should be ashamed of it because it was passed by a Democratic congress.

  2. Hi, JC, could you point out which part of the ANCA, the 11 lines, you are asking Adam Smith to revise or drop? I’ve tried reading the 1990 ANAC and it all seems to be pro-aviation. It certainly puts business concerns above people’s concerns.


    1. Thanks for the reminder. We’re about a month behind schedule on this sort of thing. You’ll get an update at the e-mail address you used when the link is in place. Sorry for the delay.

      We hate not having full footnotes but one frustration we have is that electeds (like Mr. Smith) know all about ANCA and we’d like, once in a while, to be able to just go, “you know what I mean”. Because they do know what we mean. The reason it’s not on their agenda is because excising those eleven lines is 100 times harder politically than doing all those other initiatives that look so impressive out in public.

      As to your comment, you’re 100% correct. Like many laws, the title of the bill was completely misleading as to its true intent. That is not a cynical remark. According to the law’s original sponsor, the key purpose of the law was to suppress community lawsuits which were impeding the growth of the large airport in the Senator’s home state where FedEx has their hub.

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