In a historic step, Vermont becomes the first state to pass a law requiring fossil fuel companies to pay for climate change damages

Vermont has passed a law requiring Big Oil to pay for the damage caused by climate change, the long-term change in weather patterns heavily influenced by fossil fuel emissions.

Vermont Governor Phil Scott sent a letter Thursday to the state General Assembly, allowing the measure, which proposes to create the Climate Superfund Cost Recovery Program, to become law without his signature. In that letter, Scott said that “taking on 'Big Oil' should not be taken lightly.”

“With only $600,000 appropriated by the Legislature to complete an analysis that will have to withstand intense legal scrutiny from a well-funded defense, we are not positioning ourselves for success,” he said. “I am very concerned about the costs and outcomes in both the short and long term.”

'Big Oil' – the world's largest oil and gas companies – are largely dependent on fossil fuels for their activities, which according to the United Nations are 'by far the largest contributor to global climate change'. The international group says fossil fuels are responsible more than 75% of emissions of greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere and increase global temperatures, leading to more extreme weather events.

Vermont is no stranger to the effects of extreme weather. Last summer, the state was hit by catastrophic flooding after a an estimated two months of rain fell within two days, an amount so large and damaging that NOAA classified it as a billion-dollar disaster. The excessive precipitation isolated entire cities and at one point created one railway line dangling in the air. As global temperatures rise, it causes precipitation to increase, fueling storm systems.

The Natural Resources Agency would oversee the cost recovery program, which would assess a “cost recovery demand” for any entity or successor entity interested in an entity engaged in fossil fuel extraction or crude oil refining. Entities would only have to pay if the Agency determines that their products emitted more than 1 billion tons of greenhouse gases between January 1, 1995 and December 31, 2024.

The money collected through this process would then be put into the super fund, which will be used to help the state adapt to climate change and develop more climate-resilient infrastructure.

New York, California, Massachusetts and Maryland are also considering similar legislation.

“This bill represents a major step forward in ensuring that responsible parties like Big Oil – companies like ExxonMobil and Shell that have known for decades that their products are disrupting the climate – are also required to pay their fair share of cleanup costs. ” the Vermont Natural Resources Council said before the governor's official approval.

In a April letter Speaking to the Vermont House, the American Petroleum Institute, the largest lobbying group for the oil and gas industry, said it opposed the “bad government policy” because it is “not the way to achieve the bill's objective.”

“API is extremely concerned that the bill retroactively imposes costs and liability on prior activities that were legal, violates equal protection and due process rights by holding corporations responsible for the actions of society as a whole; and is undermined by federal law,” the letter said. states. “Furthermore, the bill does not provide potentially affected parties with any information regarding the extent of potential compensation that could result from its passage.”

In announcing the bill's passage, Scott said he is aware the new law will face legal challenges. However, he noted that the attorney general and state treasurer both endorsed the proposal and that the Natural Resources Agency will be required to issue a feasibility report in January.

Vermont State Representative Martin LaLonde said in a rack that the bill took input from legal scholars into account, and said he believes “we have a solid legal case.”

“Most importantly, the stakes are too high — and the costs too high for Vermonters — to release the companies that created the mess from their obligation to help clean up the mess,” he said.

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