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Vermont is trying to create a “climate super fund” to make polluters pay. Could it work?

Vermont on Thursday became the first U.S. state to require oil and gas companies to pay for the costly impacts of climate change — a move that many experts say could pave the way for similar legislation across the country.

Republican Governor Phil Scott surprised many climate advocates and passed new bipartisan Climate Superfund legislation. It allows the Vermont Department of Natural Resources to recover costs from the fossil fuel companies responsible for more than 1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in the state. The money would go toward climate change adaptation or resilience infrastructure.

Why we wrote this

Increasingly expensive incidents of extreme weather are taking their toll on state budgets. Flood-ravaged Vermont is trying to make carbon emitters pay with a first-of-its-kind law that’s creative but legally controversial.

While most experts — including lawmakers themselves — expect a slew of legal challenges to the legislation, many see it as a groundbreaking attempt to use a “polluters pay” model to control the skyrocketing costs that state and local governments as a result of climate change.

“This is a creative attempt to shift the costs of climate damage onto the companies whose products caused that damage,” said Martin Lockman, a law student at Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.

Vermont on Thursday became the first state in the United States to require oil and gas companies to pay for the costly impacts of climate change — a move that many experts say could pave the way for similar legislation across the country.

Surprising many climate advocates, Republican Governor Phil Scott passed new bipartisan Climate Superfund legislation, which would allow the Vermont Department of Natural Resources to recover costs from the fossil fuel companies responsible for more than 1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. the state. The money would go toward climate change adaptation or resilience infrastructure.

While most experts — including lawmakers themselves — expect a slew of legal challenges to the legislation, many see it as a groundbreaking attempt to use a “polluters pay” model to control the skyrocketing costs that state and local governments as a result of climate change. From revamping stormwater systems to combat saltwater intrusion, to repairing bridges and roads washed away by unusually heavy rainstorms, to building new seawalls to protect against stronger hurricanes, municipalities across the country are looking at huge financial expenses.

Why we wrote this

Increasingly expensive incidents of extreme weather are taking their toll on state budgets. Flood-ravaged Vermont is trying to make carbon emitters pay with a first-of-its-kind law that’s creative but legally controversial.

“States need this money,” said Martin Lockman, a law student at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University in New York. “States are facing an increasing risk of natural disasters. They face chronic pressures from their changing climate, which will put real strain on their infrastructure and their economies. … This is a creative attempt to shift the costs of climate damage onto the companies whose products caused the damage.”

Glenn Russell/VTDigger/AP/File

Vermont Governor Phil Scott delivers his State of the State address on January 5, 2022 in Montpelier. Governor Scott said he was deeply concerned about the Climate Super Fund legislation and would not sign it. But he allowed it to become law on May 30.

The first law of its kind will likely come before the courts

The law will likely be challenged in court – especially by the fossil fuel industry.

The American Petroleum Institute, an industry lobby group, has opposed the new law, saying it is unconstitutional for a host of reasons and bad policy.

“This bill is nothing more than an unnecessary new tax on American energy that would only delay the innovative progress underway to accelerate low-carbon solutions while serving the energy communities that need them,” said Scott Lauermann, API spokesman.

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