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The Legality of Geoengineering Projects: A New Frontier in Environmental Law

Federal and state laws both play a significant role in the US when it comes to environmental issues. Geoengineering, also known as climate engineering, is the large-scale, scientific manipulation of climate with an aim to mitigate the potential threats to the environment from climate change.

Several private players are entering the geoengineering industry looking at the growing business opportunity it offers due to rapidly escalating environmental concerns. To ensure the legality of your geoengineering projects, you should have a skilled business law attorney on your side with experience in handling the legal aspects of complex environmental issues.

What is Geoengineering?

Geoengineering refers to the large-scale, direct, and purposeful attempts made at manipulating or intervening in the earth’s ecosystems, such as lakes, rivers, atmosphere, oceans, seas, and their biological, chemical, and physical processes. Most plans designed to reverse climate change now increasingly include geoengineering projects of different types.

These projects mainly focus on reducing rising atmospheric carbon dioxide and mitigating its consequences. A wide array of proposals form part of geoengineering projects, including reflecting sunlight back into space to slow down warming. The effect of geoengineering projects on natural environments and global warming is, at best, partly predictable.

The complications arising out of an unsafe project are likely to extend beyond the objectives and the consequences cannot always be guaranteed as being benign. Geoengineering projects need to be regulated wisely because of the inherent high stakes on a global level. Sophisticated legal instruments and implementation systems are required for these projects.

Necessity to Regulate Geoengineering Projects

A lot can go wrong when government entities and private players begin modifying complex global climate systems. For instance, solar radiation management projects that block sunlight from ever reaching the Earth can create harmful consequences for the planet. These projects involve dumping tiny reflective particles of sulfuric acid into the complex atmospheric system.

In 1991, Mount Pinatubo erupted and spewed tons of volcanic ash into the air, which temporarily cooled the planet by approximately one degree Fahrenheit. The event was also attributed to causing droughts in the African Sahel and floods along the Mississippi River in the same year. Regulators fear that deploying solar radiation management techniques may create similar side effects.

In the US, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is generally considered for geoengineering projects. There are other environmental laws that are considered for a limited subset of geoengineering techniques. This includes the Clean Air Act, local and state laws governing the cultivation of genetically modified organisms, and others.

Biggest Legal Issues in Climate Engineering

Currently, there is no law that directly addresses climate engineering projects. This is because the US government still maintains that most forms of carbon dioxide removal have a local impact. The focus on regulators right now is on inducing R&D and deployment. In fact, the recent budget bill allows for tax incentives to companies that invest in carbon dioxide removal.

The international community is stressing the need for a global agreement under the United Nations to manage solar radiation and the impact of geoengineering projects to mitigate its effects. This was made obvious when Luke Iseman and Andrew Song led “Make Sunsets” and tried to replicate the effect of volcanic eruptions by spewing sulfur dioxide through helium balloons into the stratosphere.

The team obtained permission from the Federal Aviation Administration and Reno International Airport and launched their balloons. Paul Newman, Chief Scientist for Earth Sciences at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, commented on the demonstration by saying that the Antarctic ozone hole can become worse by spewing sulfur into the stratosphere. It also increases the risk of sulfur rain and other side effects.

Such gimmicks have made the most ardent advocates of geoengineering projects realize the importance of more specific laws under the Environmental Act to govern climate engineering. The fact that private players can spray aerosols and other substances into the upper atmosphere without any checks or violations of laws needs to change.

Climate change tort actions in the past have tested the court’s capabilities for assigning liabilities and ascribing responsibility to individual parties for causing damages. There needs to be specific regulations and laws for affixing responsibility for the negative impact caused by climate engineering projects.

Scope of US Environmental Law Extending to Climate Engineering Projects

Scientists have begun exploring and implementing techniques that directly control or influence regional and global climatic systems for offsetting the effects of climate change. The US Clean Air Act is not yet set up for dealing with the impact of geoengineering projects. Its primary focus is on regional air-quality standards and emissions made by vehicles and power plants.

As per UCLA environmental law professor Edward Parson, the US environmental law has the bearings to be used for controlling nascent climate engineering technologies. Pertaining to this, as the research expands into this field, it’s integral for federal and state agencies to map out dedicated regulatory strategies for authorizing and controlling potential requests for climate engineering experiments.

Legal Help is Here from Experienced Business Law Attorneys in Alabama

At the BHM Law Group, our seasoned environmental law attorneys have successfully helped several individuals and organizations with their environment-related compliance and other legal issues. Our attorneys have decades of experience in helping businesses streamline their operations while keeping them aligned with local, state, and federal laws. To request your complimentary consultation with our legal team, call us at (205) 964-9764 or complete this online form.