R.I. Bill Would Regulate Geoengineering's Many Forms

Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — A hearing for a bill that would make Rhode Island the first state, and perhaps the first government in the world, to regulate geoengineering revealed the scope and complexity of the controversial issue.

Geoengineering is a broad term that describes everything from building dams to seeding clouds with silver iodide to make it snow. It’s becoming discussed more frequently as a solution to cool the planet.

But a passionate segment of skeptics have long been wary of geoengineering, labeling it as covert government programs that spray harmful chemicals over an unsuspecting public, causing severe illness such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Several witnesses at a May 2 House hearing accused geoengineering aerial spraying of causing health problems.

East Greenwich resident and House Geoengineering Commission member Rachael McIntosh noted the aerial release of chemicals to control global warming. Through testing, she said, her property has shown increasing levels of barium, sulfur, aluminum, and strontium.

The Geoengineering Act (H5992) requires the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to regulate and license geoengineering in its many forms.

Licenses would be required for projects to alter solar radiation, cloud seeding, carbon dioxide removal, and aerial, submarine and surface efforts to manipulate the environment. It includes regulating radio frequency and microwave radiation electronic systems.

The bill was the culmination of a House commission to study geoengineering. It has gained international and national attention from countries and states looking to adopt similar rules, according to the seven-member House Geoengineering Commission. The commission included three representatives and four members of the public.

The commission’s study concluded that geoengineering causes acid raid, algal blooms, extreme weather, and species loss, and therefore should be regulated.

Rep. Justin Price, R-Hopkinton, chaired the commission. He noted that geoengineering is no longer a conspiracy theory but happening out in the open, through programs funded by research groups, academic institutions and the Department of Defense.

International forums such as the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative and the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative are looking at ways to address climate change and have sparked fears that geoengineering will gain acceptance, according to Price.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has noted that limited testing of some climate geoengineering technologies may be needed to cool the planet.

“They are asking and they are proposing to do it,” Price said. “So the question is, are we going to have a seat at the table to regulate this and preserve the health and welfare of our community?”