Geoengineering—the deliberate modification of the earth’s climate to offset carbon emissions from human activity—was once the stuff of science fiction. Ideas of warding off the sun’s rays, or pulling greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, are now being discussed not only in academic settings and media, but also in the halls of government. Some think these techniques might save the planet or lend humanity a vital window of opportunity; others consider them a dangerous distraction from a decarbonized energy future. How will we ever find out?

Through research, of course. But how geoengineering research can be conducted consistent with existing laws is highly complex, contend Pillsbury partners Norman Carlin and Rob James in an article published in Pratt’s Energy Law Report.

Small-scale and short-term attempts to test geoengineering technologies and measure the results will not produce substantial benefits for the climate, but are essential to make informed decision-making possible. At the same time, the localized activities may have the kinds of impacts that run afoul of environmental and tort laws. Carlin and James first divide the techniques under consideration between solar radiation management (aerosols in the stratosphere, or greater white surfaces below) and carbon dioxide removal (ocean iron fertilization (OIF) and other forms of carbon capture and sequestration). They detail the analysis required for an environmental impact statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and a variety of other U.S. statutes and common-law doctrines.

Carlin and James offer practical suggestions on how projects can best navigate the domestic law challenges. “Only by encouraging research will it be possible to make appropriate decisions on whether to deploy geoengineering at the scale and for the duration needed to help combat climate change.”

To read the article in its entirety, click here: Geoengineering Research under U.S. Law.