DC Court of Appeals Rules FCC Should Provide More Information on 5G

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In a case Montgomery County was monitoring, a federal appeals court ruled last week that the Federal Communications Commission must provide more information on the potential impacts of 5G technology on health and the environment.

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled on August 13 that the FCC “has not provided a reasoned explanation for its determination that its guidelines adequately protect against the harmful effects of exposure to radiofrequency radiation unrelated to cancer.”

The court ordered the FCC to “provide a reasoned explanation for its determination that its guidelines adequately protect against the harmful effects of RF exposure. radiation unrelated to cancer.

Last month, Montgomery County Council passed a zoning text change which sets guidelines on how 5G small cell antennas can be placed throughout the county. It’s gone 7-2.

The change set out specific guidelines for how and where these antennas could be placed across the county. He also established the height of new or replacement utility poles.

Some limits are:

  • A minimum height for public lighting pole replacements for 5G technology at 20 feet
  • In commercial / residential, industrial and employment areas, the pole should be at least as high as the one it replaces or the taller within 50 feet, whichever is greater.
  • Replacement posts meet a “preferred placement” standard: near intersections, near property lines between dwellings, and “along the non-front facing side of residential properties or adjoining properties used for non-residential purposes. residential ”.

County Director Marc Elrich opposed to change, but he cannot veto a change in zoning text – just a regular bill.

Debbie Spielberg, a special assistant in Elrich’s office, said Monday that the court’s decision did not immediately affect the board’s decision, but added that the decision was “scathing” in her criticism of the FCC.

Members of the Environmental Health Trust, a petitioner in the DC case, held a press conference on Monday to welcome the court’s decision and hope it will prompt the FCC to provide more research into the effects of 5G on human health. health.

Theodora Scarato, executive director of the Environmental Health Trust and county resident, told reporters the group intends to urge the county council to take further action in response to the court ruling.

The need for 5G infrastructure has been debated in the county for years.

Supporters say the change to expand 5G antenna placement is needed as other jurisdictions in the region have passed laws on where and how antennas can be placed, putting Montgomery County behind.

Opponents said the legislation was rushed through and complained about possible negative health effects from the antennas.

They have already cited a 2018 study of the National Toxicology Program headquartered at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The study showed that extremely high doses of radiofrequency radiation – the transfer of energy from radio waves – were linked to cancerous heart tumors in male rats.

But the National Cancer Institute says radio waves are not ionizing, which means they don’t have the energy to break down DNA and cause cancer. the World Health Organization said the RF radiation was “possibly carcinogenic,” but that designation also applies to talcum powder and ginkgo extract.

Council members Sidney Katz and Will Jawando said before voting last month against the zoning change that they wanted to wait until court rulings were finalized, including the DC court ruling.

Jawando said in an interview Monday that he did not want to “pre-judge” how the court ruling might affect the county’s zoning change, if any. He added, however, that it would be easier for county officials and telecom providers to install infrastructure where it is legally permitted, rather than relocating it at a later date.

If the county has to make any changes, the council could change what it just passed, Jawando said.

Ultimately, the decision will prompt the FCC to provide more information on why it thinks 5G technology is necessary and safe, he added.

“I just think the prudent thing to do would have been to wait and see how it plays out,” Jawando said. “We will know the information. Will it force us to change what we have been doing? I don’t know, but it is possible.

Council member Hans Riemer, who has led efforts to push through the amendment to the zoning text, said in an interview on Monday that the decision was more about “process” than questioning sub-science. underlying.

Riemer said the FCC historically could have better explained 5G research. But that doesn’t change the science itself, he said.

“They say the FCC should have gone through their process better and they’re really not taking any position on the science,” Riemer said. “I think the FCC could do more to communicate the scientific research it builds on that is quite extensive and go through better public processes to support that.”

Council Chairman Tom Hucker, who voted for the proposal, said at a press conference Monday that the county attorney’s office told him the council must vote on the 5G proposal, due to a previous FCC order.

If they did not pass some sort of law, the county risked being sued by the telecommunications companies, which could have cost a considerable amount of money, Hucker said.

“We need money for all of our unmet needs, we don’t need to waste more money to telecom operators because we have failed to adopt a 5G bill, that’s what that’s at stake, ”Hucker said.

If the FCC changes its standards for how 5G infrastructure is to be deployed, board members will review the legislation again, Hucker said.

Steve Bohnel can be contacted at [email protected]


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