First-of-Its-Kind Vermont Law Targets Oil Companies

They will be required to pay for some of the damage caused by climate change
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 31, 2024 10:11 AM CDT
First-of-Its-Kind Vermont Law Targets Oil Companies
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott says he's concerned that the state is acting on its own instead of "coordinating with other states like New York and California, with far more abundant resources."   (AP Photo/Wilson Ring, File)

Vermont has become the first state to enact a law requiring fossil fuel companies to pay a share of the damage caused by climate change. Last year, the state suffered catastrophic summer flooding and damage from other extreme weather. Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York are considering similar measures.

  • Republican Gov. Phil Scott allowed the bill to become law without his signature late Thursday, the AP reports. He wrote in his message to lawmakers that "taking on 'Big Oil' should not be taken lightly" and that he is concerned about the costs and outcomes. He said he worries that if the state fails in this legal challenge, "it will set precedent and hamper other states' ability to recover damages."

  • Under the legislation, the Vermont state treasurer, in consultation with the Agency of Natural Resources, would provide a report by Jan. 15, 2026, on the total cost to Vermonters and the state from the emission of greenhouse gases from Jan. 1, 1995, to Dec. 31, 2024. The assessment would look at the effects on public health, natural resources, agriculture, economic development, housing, and other areas. The state would use federal data to determine the amount of covered greenhouse gas emissions attributed to a fossil fuel company.
  • It's a polluter-pays model affecting companies engaged in the trade or business of extracting fossil fuel or refining crude oil attributable to more than 1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions during the time period. The funds could be used by the state for such things as upgrading stormwater drainage systems; upgrading roads, bridges, and railroads; relocating, elevating, or retrofitting sewage treatment plants; and making energy efficient weatherization upgrades to public and private buildings.

  • "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," says Paul Burns, director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. "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 American Petroleum Institute, the top lobbying group for the oil and gas industry, has said it's extremely concerned the legislation "retroactively imposes costs and liability on prior activities that were legal, violates equal protection and due process rights by holding companies responsible for the actions of society at large; and is preempted by federal law."
(More climate change stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.