“Taking on Big Oil”; Vermont enacts Climate Superfund Act

By Dana Drugmand

Vermont has enacted a first-in-the-nation law that holds major fossil fuel companies financially responsible for the climate pollution associated with their products, a move applauded by environmental advocates.

Following passage by the legislature earlier this month, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott allowed the bill to become law on Thursday without his signature. He cited several concerns in a letter to the state senate secretary, warning that “Taking on Big Oil should not be taken lightly.”

The measure, dubbed the Climate Superfund Act, aims to recover climate-related costs incurred by the state from large oil and gas companies whose production of carbon-based fuels ultimately resulted in over a billion metric tons of atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions between 1995 and 2024 – pollution that is wreaking havoc on communities across the country in the form of deadly heat waves, catastrophic flooding and storms, and other extreme weather events.

Vermont experienced its worst flooding in nearly a century last summer when heavy rains caused rivers to overflow their banks, wiping out floodplain crops, washing out roads and bridges, and damaging homes and small businesses throughout the state.

“In order to remedy the problems caused by washed out roads and houses, downed electrical wires, damaged crops, and repeated flooding, the largest fossil fuel entities that have contributed to climate change should also have to contribute to fixing the problem they caused,” Vermont state representative Amy Sheldon of Middlebury said from the House floor on May 3.

In passing the new law, Vermont is taking the first step in shifting some of the cost burden of responding and adapting to such climate-related disasters from taxpayers and onto the corporate polluters whose products are driving climate breakdown, according to environmental advocacy groups.

“The ‘polluter pays’ principle is the bedrock of the environmental movement,” said Johanna Miller, energy and climate program director at the Vermont Natural Resources Council. “With the enactment of the Climate Superfund Act, Vermont is demonstrating that it values Vermonters and their pocketbooks over Big Oil profits.”