Vermont becomes first state with Climate Superfund Act

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The Climate Superfund Act (S.259) was signed into law into law with a Senate voted of 26-3 and a House vote of 106 of the 150 members in favor. However, it was passed without a signature or a veto from Republican governor, Phil Scott.

The Act, modeled on the federal EPA Superfund program, requires the fossil fuel companies who produced more than 1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from 1995 to 2024 to contribute to the Climate Superfund Cost Recovery Program Fund.

“With the enactment of the Climate Superfund Act, we are entering a new era in the effort to hold Big Oil accountable for the damages they have caused,” said Elena Mihaly, vice president of Conservation Law Foundation Vermont. “No longer are we reliant on litigants. Finally, the legislative branch of government is saying it’s time to make the world’s biggest polluters pay a fair share of the cleanup costs.

The Climate Superfund Cost Recovery Program Fund will be administered by the Secretary of Natural Resources to provide funding for climate change adaptation projects in Vermont.  Monies from the Fund will go toward “climate change adaptation projects” that will be implemented according to the State Hazard Mitigation Plan.

The fossil fuel companies will be expected to begin payments of at least 20% of the total cost recovery demand no later than six months following the issuance of the cost recovery demand, followed by annual payments of up to 10% of that demand.

“Vermont’s citizen legislators really stepped up on this bill,” said Lauren Hierl, executive director of Vermont Conservation Voters and a Montpelier city councilor. “Without the Climate Superfund, the costs of climate change falls entirely on taxpayers – and that’s not fair. Now, there’s finally a law in place to require the corporations that caused the damage to pay, too.”

The law will likely be challenged by the fossil fuel industry. In a letter to the Vermont House Judiciary and Environment and Energy Committees the American Petroleum Institute said it “believes S.259 is bad public policy and may be unconstitutional”. The Institute thinks the bill is imposing charges for activities that were legal, and it says it’s “holding companies responsible for the actions of society at large”.

“We know that Big Oil will fight this in the courts,” said Representative Martin LaLonde (South Burlington), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, “But, as an attorney myself, and having worked closely with many legal scholars in shaping the bill, I believe we have a solid legal case. Most importantly, the stakes are too high – and the costs too steep for Vermonters – to release corporations that caused the mess from their obligation to help clean it up.”

Last summer Vermont felt the full effects of climate change when record-breaking rainfall washed out roads and caused flooding in many part of the state. President Biden declared a State of Emergency when the storms caused what Governor Scott referred to as “historic and catastrophic” flooding.

“For too long, giant fossil fuel companies have knowingly lit the match of climate disruption without being required to do a thing to put out the fire,” said Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG). “Finally, maybe for the first time anywhere, Vermont is going to hold the companies most responsible for climate-driven floods, fires and heat waves financially accountable for a fair share of the damages they’ve caused.”

The bill received broad support in addition to the legislators who voted in favor. Vermont Public Interest Research Group, Vermont Natural Resources Council, the Conservation Law Foundation and the Sierra Club are among the many supporters of the bill.

“For decades, the oil industry has profited while their products and practices continue to cause societal harm in the forms of global climate change, public health hazards, and environmental degradation,” said Luke Miller, Vermont Sierra Club Executive Committee Member. “The Climate Superfund bill seeks to make Big Oil companies acknowledge and compensate the public for the damages they have caused over the years.”

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