“Extraordinary” and “Highly Controversial”: Federal Research of Solar Geoengineering Under NEPA

Corbett, Charles R. | March 13, 2021

Congress recently instructed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to investigate stratospheric aerosols, materials that could be injected in the atmosphere as a means of solar climate intervention. This action has been widely interpreted as the first-ever federal research project into solar geoengineering—proposals to slightly “dim the sun” to limit the harms of climate change. This Essay argues that NOAA should use its discretion to conduct a programmatic environmental assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) as an initial step in governing this research program. Federal research into solar geoengineering is an extraordinary and highly controversial policy. The agency should carefully consider the environmental, social, and political impacts that may come with this undertaking. Further, the public deserves an opportunity to weigh in on the matter and to be apprised of its potential benefits and risks. NEPA provides a rigorous framework for doing just that.


Emmett Climate Engineering Fellow in Environmental Law and Policy, Emmett Institute, UCLA School of Law 2019–2021. My thanks to Holly Buck, Leilani Doktor, Sean Hecht, Ted Parson, Jesse Reynolds, Shuchi Talati, and Daniele Visioni for their comments and assistance. This Essay builds on an analysis published in a blog post on Legal Planet in February 2020.

Copyright 2021 by Charles R. Corbett

Cite as: Charles R. Corbett, “Extraordinary” and “Highly Controversial”: Federal Research of Solar Geoengineering Under NEPA, 115 Nw. U. L. Rev. Online 240 (2021), https://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1307&context=nulr_online.