Bay Area city council rejects controversial sea-spray climate project

City Council members of Alameda, Calif., voted unanimously in the early hours Wednesday to put an end to a controversial climate research project that involved spraying sea salt particles into the East Bay Area’s air.

The University of Washington experiment, called the Marine Cloud Brightening Program, aimed to explore how aerosol particles from both natural sources and human activities could cool the Earth’s climate, by causing clouds to brighten and reflecting sunlight back into space.

To understand these effects, researchers had been spraying sea salt particles from the deck of the USS Hornet in the San Francisco Bay into low-lying clouds.

But concerns about possible environmental risks surged after the project surfaced in both The New York Times and local media, leading the city to put the program on hold last month.

That determination, according to a statement from Alameda, occurred because the project was “in violation of the city’s lease with the U.S.S. Hornet.”

During a City Council meeting that began at 7 p.m. Tuesday and extended into Wednesday morning, members voted to disband the project entirely — in large part on the grounds that the research occurred with insufficient transparency.

“I don’t like hearing about things or getting things from The New York Times,” Council member Malia Vella said at the meeting, prior to the vote. “I prefer to actually have an opportunity to review them.”

The unanimous vote to stop the project occurred despite a recent internal investigation in which city staff members concluded that the experiment posed “little to no risk in the community or to wildlife.”

While crediting the project’s “good intentions” that were in line with the city’s climate priorities, Vella stressed that environmental reviews should have taken place through various regional boards.

“I think we would not be good neighbors to the surrounding Bay Area communities,” she said.

Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft echoed these sentiments, noting that while she has “nothing against The New York Times,” she felt like the researchers “didn’t start out on the right foot.”

“For an entity to come in that never bothered to even introduce themselves to the city that is landlord of the Hornet, and then to say, ‘Oh, we were told we don’t need this permit, we don’t need that permit’ — with all due respect, I need to have it straight from the horse’s mouth,” the mayor added.

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