New England stories from the region's top public media newsrooms
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Climate Superfund' bill earns preliminary approval in Vermont Senate

Next to a flooded road, a green and white sign reads "Vermont 14 North." A person on a green tractor is driving near the floodwaters
Charles Krupa
/
Associated Press File
Last summer's historic flooding cost Vermont more than $1 billion. Human-caused climate change is making Vermont warmer and wetter, and is projected to bring more extreme rain events.

The Vermont Senate voted 21-5 Friday to give preliminary approval to the Climate Superfund Act.

The bill is modeled after the federal superfund program and would require big fossil fuel companies that extract and refine oil to pay Vermont a share of what climate change has cost the state in recent decades, based on how much their products contributed to global climate change during that time.

Vermont would use those payments to establish a program to fund recovery from climate-fueled disasters and work to adapt to the state’s already-changed climate.

The bill comes as human-caused climate change is making Vermont warmer and wetter, and is projected to bring more extreme rain — like that which caused this summer’s floods. The event cost the state north of $1 billion — and that was from just one storm.

The Winooski River at peak flood stage on the evening of July 11.
Abagael Giles
/
Vermont Public
The Winooski River at peak flood stage on the evening of July 11, 2023.

Proponents of the bill say it’s critical that those already inevitable costs are not shouldered by Vermont taxpayers. It has the support of both Vermont Attorney General Charity Clark and State Treasurer Mike Pieciak.

Opponents of the policy worry it will tie the state up in costly legal battles. Oil companies, like other big polluters, don’t part with their money readily.

More from Vermont Public: Climate Superfund Act would make oil companies pay for climate damages in Vermont

Speaking on the Senate floor, Sen. Nader Hashim, a Democrat from Windham County, said big oil companies should pay to clean up the mess they created.

"The underlying goal of this bill is not about reducing carbon emissions,” he told his colleagues. “It is about reducing the costs for Vermont taxpayers when we have to take steps to pay for rebuilding infrastructure after severe weather events."

Just one Republican voted to support the bill — Sen. Robert Norris of Franklin County. Norris, who sits on the judiciary committee, also supported the bill in committee.

Senate Minority Leader Randy Brock, also of Franklin County, voted against the policy.

"I'd much prefer to see New York or California or someone else first,” Brock said on the floor Friday. “Not that this is not a good thing to do, but it could be an exceptionally costly thing to do, for us."

Gov. Phil Scott has voiced similar concerns. Neither the governor nor Senate Republicans have proposed an alternative policy to recoup costs from climate change, nor has the party broadly supported climate bills thus far during the session, largely over concerns about what proposed policies would cost Vermonters.

Environmental groups and Democrats say Vermont simply cannot wait. They say climate change is already costing the state and will continue to bring more damage to Vermont in the future.

More from Vermont Public: Which climate and environment bills made the crossover deadline?

Anthony Iarrapino, with the Conservation Law Foundation, which lobbied in support of the policy, said he hopes the legislation can be a model for other states.

“In Vermont, those costs are staggering and being felt in just about every community and every industry in the state,” he said.

New York, Massachusetts and California are weighing similar legislation to Vermont’s bill.

Vermont Public Interest Research Group, Vermont Conservation Voters and Vermont Natural Resources Council joined the Sierra Club, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility and NOFA-VT in applauding the bill’s progress Friday.

The policy comes back to the Vermont Senate for final approval next week. If it is successful then, it goes to the Vermont House.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

_

Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.