Environmental leaders launched a new campaign today to hold the largest corporate climate polluters accountable for the tremendous damage their product has caused in Vermont.
The Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) led the effort – called “Make Big Oil Pay” – in a campaign kick-off event just outside City Hall in Burlington. The event featured dozens of VPIRG’s summer outreach staff, partnering organizations, and a 20-foot-long inflatable pink pig to represent the greed of the fossil fuel industry (visit MakeBigOilPay.org to learn more).
Climate change has already caused extraordinary harm in Vermont. Extreme weather events like Tropical Storm Irene and a 2018 heat wave have taken lives. And the rising costs associated with economic, health, and environmental damages are astronomical.
Last year, Gov. Phil Scott and the Legislature approved $225 million in taxpayer funding for climate change mitigation measures, while a recent report by Rebuild by Design found that from 2011-2021 Vermont had the fifth highest per person spending on climate-related disasters in the country.
Looking ahead, researchers estimate that if we don’t act to meet our legally binding emission reduction goals, climate change will cost Vermonters at least $7 billion over the next 25 years. In a separate UVM study, researchers predicted that property damage from flooding alone could cost Vermont $5.2 billion over the next century.
“We’re here today because the fossil fuel industry has been raking in obscene profits while forcing Vermonters to foot the bill for the damages the industry has caused,” said Paul Burns, executive director of VPIRG. “The idea is simple. If you make a mess, you clean it up. And the climate polluting fossil fuel giants have literally made the biggest mess ever. It’s time for them to pay their fair share.”
The largest oil companies in the world made more than $200 billion in profits last year, while Vermonters were forced to pay record prices at the pump.
“As a City Councilor, I’ve seen firsthand how Vermont communities are already experiencing the increasing costs of climate change – like when streets are flooded, more water mains break, and culverts need to be upgraded. Right now, local taxpayers are on the hook for these inevitable and rising costs — and guess who isn’t currently paying? The Big Oil and gas companies that knew about climate change decades ago but did nothing to stop it as they racked up massive profits,” said Lauren Hierl, Montpelier City Councilor, and Executive Director of Vermont Conservation Voters.
Hierl added, “Vermonters support the idea that if you make a mess, you should pay to clean it up. Recent polling shows that Vermont voters support a one-time fee on big oil and gas companies to pay for climate infrastructure by a 2-to-1 margin. They’re also significantly more likely to vote for a candidate who supports such a fee.”
A recent statewide poll conducted by Data for Progress found that 64 percent of Vermonters support a proposal that would require big oil and gas companies to pay a share of the cost for climate resilient infrastructure projects, while just 32 percent opposed the idea.
The “Make Big Oil Pay” campaign supports the creation of a Vermont Climate Superfund, which would be similar to the federal hazardous waste Superfund program. The largest companies most responsible for the pollution harming our environment – in this case the Big Oil and gas companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron that have polluted our climate – will be charged a one-time fee based on their historic emissions.
The companies may opt to pay their fee in annual installments over a period of 25 years. And the funds can be used to mitigate and protect Vermonters from some of the financial costs of climate change, including state and municipal infrastructure, weatherization and air conditioning of our public schools and buildings, and health care costs associated with a warming climate.
“Every dollar we raise through this program will offset a dollar that a Vermonter would have to pay without it. With a Vermont Climate Superfund, we can save Vermonters $2.5 billion,” Burns said.
More than two dozen VPIRG canvassers attended the event, just before fanning out across the state to knock on doors and speak with Vermonters about this campaign. One of the canvass leaders is Anna Seuberling, a recent graduate of the University of Vermont who also serves of the President of the VPIRG Board of Trustees.
“For the many thousands of Vermonters who care about how climate change impacts them and don’t know how they can be part of the solution, we will be there on their doorstep with an open invitation to the climate conversation going on in Montpelier,” Seuberling said. “Vermonters know that it is only fair that Big Oil companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron use some of those profits to pay for a portion of the costs to repair Vermont’s infrastructure that has been damaged by climate change,” she added. The speakers noted that Vermont Senators Bernie Sanders and Peter Welch both backed the idea of a climate Superfund at the federal level during the Build Back Better negotiations. However, that legislation did not become law. In the meantime, at least three states are considering state climate Superfund programs, including New York, Massachusetts, and Maryland. Vermont would be the fourth. The New York Senate passed a climate Superfund bill just last week.