What is going on here?

In response to extreme flooding events last summer, this week Vermont state introduced groundbreaking legislation ordering fossil fuel companies to pay for damages driving the climate crisis. Using state of the art modelling systems, Vermont will calculate the share of emissions produced by companies between 1995 and 2024, and fine companies accordingly. The funds generated by this new ‘Climate Superfund Act’ will go towards climate mitigation projects within the state. 

What does this mean?

Vermont is the first state to legally hold fossil fuel corporations financially accountable for climate damages. Other US states have now also begun to express interest in passing similar bills. The Climate Superfund Act marks a shift in the cost of the climate crisis from the tax-payer to sharing the burden with the private sector. With just 57 companies linked to 80% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions since 2016, the move by Vermont state has been applauded by environmental groups

However, Vermont’s new law has been met by some resistance from the American Petroleum Institute who denounced it as potentially unconstitutional. Governor Scott of Vermont also abstained from signing the law due to concerns over targeting Big Oil (the world’s largest oil and gas companies). Some officials suggest that these companies may be forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars. 

The logos of the six big oil and gas companies which compose Big Oil
The six oil and gas companies which compose Big Oil. Image credit: Oil Now.

Why should we care?

The Climate Superfund Act marks the first time private companies have been held financially accountable by a state for climate driven weather events. It is crucial to have this written in law so the practice of directing climate responsibility can become normalised. With ongoing developments in modelling, the rest of the world should look to Vermont as an example of how to place the blame and the cost where it really lies – with private fossil fuel companies. Whilst met by resistance, Vermont may have just taken the first step in revolutionising international climate law, beginning to tackle the complex issue of GHG accountability.  

Be Curious…!

  • Take a look at some of Vermont’s unpredicted extreme flooding from July 2023.
  • Read more about the other US states that are also looking at passing similar bills.  
  • Find out more about climate law in our archive article “Laws time to shine – how can litigation help save our planet?”.

Featured image by AP, via NECN