Vermont becomes first state to require oil companies to pay for climate change damage: NPR

A small tractor removes water from a business as floodwaters block a street, July 12, 2023, in Barre, Vermont. Vermont became the first state to pass a law requiring fossil fuel companies to pay a share of damages caused by climate change after the state suffered catastrophic summer flooding and damage from other extreme weather .

Charles Krupa/AP/AP

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Charles Krupa/AP/AP

Vermont became the first state to pass a law requiring fossil fuel companies to pay a share of damages caused by climate change after the state suffered catastrophic summer flooding and damage from other extreme weather .

Republican governor. Phil Scott allowed the bill to become law without his signature Thursday evening, saying he was very concerned about the costs and results of pitting the small state against “big oil” alone in what will likely be a fight grueling legal process. But he acknowledged that he understood that something had to be done to address the harmful consequences of climate change.

“I understand the desire to seek funding to mitigate the effects of climate change that has harmed our state in so many ways,” Scott, a moderate Republican from the largely blue state of Vermont, wrote in a letter to discuss it.

The popular governor, who recently announced he is running for re-election to a fifth two-year term, is at odds with the Democratic-controlled Legislature, which he called unbalanced. Environmental advocates expected him to veto the bill, but he then allowed it to go ahead. Scott wrote to express comfort that the Natural Resources Agency is required to report to the Legislature on the feasibility of this effort.

Flooding last July from torrential rains inundated Vermont’s capital Montpelier, the neighboring town of Barre, some communities in southern Vermont, ravaged homes and washed away roads around the rural state. Some call it the worst natural disaster the state has seen since the 1927 flood that killed dozens of people and caused widespread damage. It took months for businesses – from restaurants to stores – to rebuild, losing their summer and even fall seasons. Several have recently reopened while many homeowners have been left with flood-ravaged homes as the cold season approaches.

Under the legislation, the Vermont State Treasurer, in consultation with the Natural Resources Agency, would provide a report by January. 15, 2026, on the total cost to Vermonters and the state of greenhouse gas emissions starting January 1. 1, 1995 to December 31, 2024. The assessment would examine impacts on public health, natural resources, agriculture, economic development, housing and other areas. The state would use federal data to determine the amount of covered greenhouse gas emissions attributed to a fossil fuel company.

It is a polluter-pays model that affects companies extracting fossil fuels or refining crude oil, responsible for more than a billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. during this period. The funds could be used by the state for things such as improving stormwater drainage systems; modernize roads, bridges and railways; relocate, raise or upgrade wastewater treatment plants; and make energy-efficient weatherization improvements in public and private buildings. It is modeled on the Federal Superfund cleanup program.

“For too long, giant fossil fuel companies have knowingly lit the match for climate change without being required to do anything to put out the fire,” said Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, in a press release. “Finally, perhaps for the first time, Vermont will hold the companies most responsible for climate-related floods, fires and heat waves financially responsible for a fair share of the damage they caused.”

Maryland, Massachusetts and New York are considering similar measures.

The American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s main lobbying group, said it was extremely concerned that the legislation “retroactively imposes costs and liabilities on prior activities that were legal, violates the equal protection and due process rights by holding businesses accountable for their actions.” of society as a whole; and is preempted by federal law.

“This positive new tax represents another step in a coordinated campaign to undermine America’s energy advantage and the economic and national security benefits it provides,” spokesman Scott Lauermann said in a statement Friday. .

Vermont expects the state will face legal challenges, but the governor worries about the costs and what it would mean for other states if Vermont fails.

State Representative. Martin LaLonde, a Democrat and lawyer, believes Vermont has a strong legal case. Lawmakers worked closely with numerous legal experts to craft the bill, he said in a statement.

“More importantly, the stakes are too high – and the costs too high for Vermonters – to release the companies that caused the disaster from their obligation to help clean it up,” he said.

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