Fri. May 24th, 2024

Vermont passes bill to charge fossil-fuel companies for climate damages

By 37ci3 May7,2024

Vermont lawmakers this week passed a bill designed to pay big fossil fuel companies for damages from climate change-induced weather disasters.

The legislation is modeled after the Environmental Protection Agency’s superfund program, which requires companies responsible for pollution to either clean up the sites themselves or pay the government the cost of doing so.

The Vermont bill is referred to as his Climate Superfund Actlikewise, big oil companies and other high-emissions companies will be forced to pay for the damage caused by global warming.

The amounts owed will be determined based on estimates of how much climate change contributes to extreme weather in Vermont and how much these weather disasters cost the state. From there, the companies’ total shares will depend on how many metric tons of carbon dioxide each emitted into the atmosphere from 2000 to 2019.

The legislation passed in the Vermont state Senate in early April with just three votes, followed by approval in the state House on Monday. The Senate will hold a final vote later this week before the bill goes to Republican Gov. Phil Scott’s desk.

State Sen. Anne Watson, a co-sponsor of the bill, said she hopes the law, if passed, will encourage major oil companies to “become renewable energy providers and keep fossil fuels in the ground.”

This is the first bill passed in the United States. Massachusetts, Maryland and New York have similar policies, but only New York’s bill has passed the state legislature. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., also tried to introduce comparable legislation at the federal level as part of the 2022 infrastructure bill, but it failed to pass. final project.

In Vermont, the money fossil fuel companies pay will go toward modernizing infrastructure, weatherproofing schools and public buildings, storm cleanup, and addressing the public health costs of climate change.

The bill hinges on the ability to estimate how much damage climate change has caused in Vermont — an accounting that would be based on a line of research known as the science of attribution. Over the past 20 years, researchers have developed the ability to confidently model the extent to which human influence affects the severity and frequency of extreme weather events.

“We can say very clearly that, ‘Without the history of human-induced climate change and carbon pollution, we would not be experiencing these intense global temperatures,'” said Andrew Pershing, vice president of science at the nonprofit Climate Central. conducts attributional scientific research.

Pershing pointed to the extreme rainfall as something scientists could attribute to a warmer atmosphere.

“New England has a 60% increase in the heaviest precipitation days,” he said, explaining that “for every 1 degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature, you get a 4% increase in the amount of water vapor the atmosphere can hold.”

In Vermont in particular, this past winter was the warmest on record. This comes after record-breaking rainfall in July caused catastrophic flooding in the state. The storm cost the Northeast an estimated $2.2 billion National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Republican state Sen. Russ Ingalls said he was one of the three no votes because he expected the law to lead to major litigation and because he thought the money the state would have to spend on those legal battles could be better spent.

“The decision has been made to go to war with corporations that have probably as many advocates as our citizens,” he said. “They’ll crush us like bugs.”

The law is indeed expected to face serious challenges in court once Vermont determines which companies to charge and how much. Past superfund cases have been long, complicated and expensive.

The American Petroleum Institute, one of the main lobbies for the interests of oil and natural gas companies, sent a letter told the state Senate, which opposed the bill, that it “violates the rights of equal protection and due process by holding companies responsible for the actions of the entire community.”

The group declined to comment further beyond the letter.

But Watson told lawmakers the Vermont attorney general is “ready and willing to defend this law.”

“The science linking climate change to severe weather damage is strong enough to withstand scrutiny,” he said.

Other supporters of the bill similarly say Vermonters shouldn’t be on the hook for the costs of responding to and preparing for climate change.

“You see cities across the state under water, communities and businesses financially devastated. The reality of the climate crisis is really hitting home,” said Ben Edgerly Walsh, director of the climate and energy program. Vermont Public Interest Research Groupadvocating the adoption of the bill. “These are the facts we are facing in real time and we need the financial resources to deal with it.”

Once the bill reaches Scott’s desk, he could still choose to veto it, though the governor has not indicated one way or the other that he might do so.

If he vetoes the bill, Vermont law requires it to be sent back to the Legislature and repassed by a majority vote in the Senate and House to override the veto. Given that the bill already passed with a majority — and Scott has faced several vetoes during his tenure — it’s expected to do so again.

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By 37ci3

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