State News

Tri-partisan Climate Superfund Act aims to hold big oil accountable

On Friday, March 29 the Vermont Senate voted overwhelmingly (21-5) to advance S.259, the Climate Superfund Act, which would ensure that Vermonters are not left shouldering the full cost of climate disruption. Following another vote Tuesday, April 2, the bill will head to the House of Representatives for consideration.

As Vermont continues to grapple with the physical and financial impacts of a changing climate, 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 — be required to also pay a fair share of the cleanup costs. 

Sen. Dick Sears (Bennington) chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee stated, “Vermont has been willing to take on huge multinational corporations before, including when we held Saint-Gobain accountable for contaminating people’s drinking water. The Climate Superfund Act is built on the long-standing principle that the polluter pays. The damage that fossil fuels are causing in our communities continues to grow, with flooding in the last year alone resulting in massive costs to our state. I’m pleased that my colleagues in the Senate advanced this important policy.”

Last summer’s catastrophic flooding in Vermont has already resulted in $500 million in damage claims made to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is more than double the financial damages inflicted by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. Beyond the claims filed to FEMA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) classifies last July’s flooding as a “billion-dollar climate and weather disaster.” The costs of climate disruption are only forecast to go up in the future.

“The Senate’s vote today to support the Climate Superfund Act represents a historic step towards both preparing Vermont for the climate crisis and towards holding the fossil fuel companies responsible for the climate crisis accountable for their fair share of its costs,” said Ben Edgerly Walsh, climate and energy program director for VPIRG. 

Just as Congress created the federal Superfund program and Vermont enacted the Waste Management Act in the 1980s to ensure that responsible parties paid their fair share to clean up toxic waste, S.259 would create a program to hold Big Oil companies strictly liable for their share of costs inflicted on Vermont as a result of climate pollution from their products. Those Big Oil companies that had business footprints in Vermont from 1995-2024 would pay a cost recovery assessment for their share of the state’s greenhouse gas-related costs. 

“The costs of climate change are escalating and Vermonters are paying for high-priced, catastrophic, fossil-fuel induced damages,” said Johanna Miller, energy and climate program director at Vermont Natural Resources Council. “Creating a Climate Superfund to hold Big Oil accountable for paying their fair share of climate catastrophes is critical to providing some needed financial relief to impacted communities and Vermont families who are, now, singularly holding the bag.”  

The Vermont Climate Superfund would then provide funding for climate change adaptation projects in the state, including nature-based solutions and flood protections, upgrading stormwater drainage systems, making proactive upgrades to roads, bridges, railroads, and transit systems, and more. 

“Today’s historic Senate vote represents real progress in the struggle to hold the world’s largest fossil fuel companies accountable for the climate chaos their profit-making activities have inflicted on Vermont,” said Elena Mihaly, vice president of Conservation Law Foundation, Vermont. “Conservation Law Foundation is proud to have contributed to the Senate’s careful consideration of this bill and will continue to work with the legislature and the administration to see its enactment into law this year.” 

Lauren Hierl, executive director of Vermont conservation voters, added, “The Climate Superfund bill is critically important as more and more communities deal with climate disasters, and with the increasing costs of building more resilient infrastructure. It’s only fair that the largest fossil fuel companies help pay for these growing expenses. We thank the Senate for their leadership on this issue.” 

“Medical professional organizations across the United States and internationally are unified around one core message about climate change — it is, far and away, the primary threat to human and animal health in the 21st Century. As we began to see in Vermont last year, the costs to protect our citizens and our infrastructure are building — and poised to become astronomical. It’s time that the industry that is the root cause of climate change is held accountable for those costs,” noted Dan Quinlan, chair of the Vermont Climate and Health Alliance. 

Vermonters shouldn’t be the only ones footing the bill for the costs of the climate crisis. As S.259 heads to the House, the Democrat, Republican and Progressive parties along with countless supporting organizations look forward to continuing to work alongside lawmakers to protect Vermonters and ensure Big Oil pays its fair share.

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