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Historic legislation in NY would foot Big Oil companies with bill for climate damages: 'It's time to make polluters pay'

"Finally, some justice for the taxpayers of New York."

"Finally, some justice for the taxpayers of New York."

Photo Credit: iStock

New York lawmakers have passed legislation that would make dirty energy companies pay for the costs associated with an overheating planet, and — as of late June — the bill is awaiting a signature from Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Food & Water Watch announced that the New York State Assembly passed the Climate Change Superfund Act on June 7. If signed by the governor, it will create a 25-year fund of $3 billion annually, which will be financed by big dirty-energy corporations and go toward things like climate resiliency projects, according to Food & Water Watch. Per the organization, a third of those funds will go to disadvantaged communities, which are disproportionately impacted by a warming world.

"It's time to make polluters pay," Eric Weltman, Food & Water Watch's Senior New York Organizer, said in a statement urging Hochul to sign the act into law.

New York would be the second state to enact similar legislation — Vermont passed its Climate Superfund Act in May. Meanwhile, California is considering a similar policy. According to the Guardian, surveys have shown that most voters support making the industry financially responsible for its polluting ways. 

Legislation such as this is significant, as dirty energy sources like oil, gas, and coal generate more than 75% of all planet-warming pollution. If we don't curb the overheating of the planet, the United Nations predicts extreme consequences, including hotter temperatures that could endanger global food supplies and human health, more severe storms that could threaten lives and property, and more disease.

For instance, experts have warned that potentially deadly flesh-eating bacteria are spreading northward up the U.S. East Coast because of warming waters. Meanwhile, Latin America is grappling with the devastating effects of record heat, floods, and drought, as hunger and disease rise across the region.

The good news is that a number of big corporations and organizations are making efforts to reduce their dependence on planet-warming energy sources. For instance, the Presbyterian Church is cutting all financial ties to dirty energy. Plus, HSBC, one of the world's biggest banks, has announced it will no longer finance oil and gas fields.

New York State Sen. Liz Krueger, one of the bill's sponsors, pointed out to the Wall Street Journal that the $3 billion wouldn't even cover the full annual cost of climate adaptation and mitigation in the state.

"We're probably spending a lot more than that a year already, and the numbers keep growing when you look at flooding damage, storm damage, rising water tables, fires, pollution, health — all these things being caused by climate change," she told the publication

However, Bill McKibben, an environmental activist living in Vermont who is founder of Third Act and 350.org, expressed relief as New York's climate act inches closer to becoming law.

"Finally, some justice for the taxpayers of New York, and finally a past due invoice for the Exxon shareholders who have been profiting off the damage to roads, bridges, and homes across the Empire State," he said, per the Adirondack Explorer.

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