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Vermont takes on 'Big Oil' with groundbreaking bill: 'The stakes are too high'

"[This bill] represents a major step forward."

"[This bill] represents a major step forward."

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Vermont will be the first state in the US to hold "Big Oil" accountable with a law requiring payment for damages from the effects of climate change, per a report by CBS News.

Taking on Big Oil 

The state's Republican governor, Phil Scott, sent a letter to Vermont's General Assembly clearing the way for the Climate Superfund Cost Recovery Program law (S.259) to pass without his signature. 

While he says he believes in the cause, Gov. Scott shared his reservations in the letter. He indicated that Vermont could have benefited from collaborating with other major players like New York and California instead of risking a stand on its own.

"Having said that," Gov. Scott continued, "I understand the desire to seek funding to mitigate the effects of climate change that has hurt our state in so many ways."

One Vermont state Representative, Martin LaLonde, released a reassuring statement of his own, clarifying that legal scholars vetted the bill and that they have a solid legal case. 

"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," he said, per CBS News.

Major polluters should pay

The bill would require entities found to have spewed more than 2.2 trillion pounds of planet-warming gases between 1995 and 2024 to pay up, according to CBS News. Vermont would use that money to deal with the disastrous effects of an overheating planet. 

And the industry certainly has the money to pay. In 2022, the U.S. oil and gas industry's total revenue was $332.9 billion, as Statista reported. While that's staggering enough, it's a massive uptick from the $211.2 billion it earned the previous year.  

The damage

The rise in global temperatures has led to various severe climate impacts, including more flooding, fires, droughts, and increasingly powerful storm systems. 

Big Oil is to blame for much of the damage, with the United Nations stating that the use of dirty fuels accounts for more than 75% of polluting gases. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has estimated that in 2023 alone, climate-related disasters caused $92.9 billion in damage across the U.S., and Vermont was not immune to this damage. 

Looking forward

While federal efforts like the Inflation Reduction Act have created green incentives to help address the changing climate, the states must do their part. 

The Vermont Natural Resources Council expressed support for the Climate Superfund Cost Recovery Program, stating, "[It] represents a major step forward in ensuring that responsible parties, like Big Oil — companies like ExxonMobil and Shell that have known for decades that their products are disrupting the climate — be required to also pay a fair share of the cleanup costs." 

Lawsuits are also underway, seeking to hold the dirty energy industry accountable for its actions. More are likely to follow. 

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