When someone makes a mess, they are expected to clean it up.
Fossil fuel companies that have emitted significant greenhouse gases driving the climate crisis would be required to pay the state $30 billion for environmental improvements under new legislation introduced Thursday.
The Climate Change Superfund Act would require coal, oil and natural gas companies to pay a share of the cost of green infrastructure projects to address environmental damage and ease the burden on ratepayers who have not contributed to harmful air emissions .
“We all learn the simple rule in kindergarten: You make the mess, you clean it up,” said Lee Wasserman, director of the Rockefeller Family Fund. “But when it comes to corporate morality and responsibility, too many oil companies seem unable to learn that lesson. These companies still insist on privatizing their billions and billions of dollars in earnings, but socialize the severe damage, death and the destruction they cause to the rest of us.”
Companies would pay damages based on their share of total greenhouse gas emissions since the year 2000.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation would use industry-specific formulas for each fossil fuel company to calculate its emissions and identify those responsible. Proof of negligence or wrongdoing is not required for companies to be liable for damages.
The DEC would use publicly peer-reviewed formulas based on decades of research to determine a pollutant’s share of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, helping to pinpoint a company’s liability, according to the draft. of law.
A similar formula is used to calculate fixed costs for fiscally responsible polluters under the state’s hazardous waste management program. The proposed law would create the Climate Change Adaptation Cost Recovery Program – equivalent to a state superfund program to clean up toxic waste sites.
“Who should pay? The oil companies should pay because they are the source of the problem,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
Many fossil fuel companies have waged decades-long campaigns to mislead the public about scientific evidence showing the danger of rising global temperatures, Horner said.
“We know they knew,” he added. “They caused a problem, they created waste and they have to be responsible for it.”
Businesses would be notified of their total amount owed to New York in advance to be paid in a fixed cost over 10 years. Twenty percent of the damage would be due in the first year.
The money would be put into a new climate change adaptation fund that would be used for green infrastructure projects to help New York be more resilient to the impacts of climate change. Potential upgrades include repairing damage caused by extreme weather events and upgrading storm sewers, roads, bridges, electrification and public transportation. The DEC will determine the eligible projects.
Damage costs will vary widely from company to company, so the penalty should not impact the cost of goods sold. The bill’s sponsors say a company’s desire to stay competitive with other companies should keep service costs from rising.
“The fossil fuel industry must take some responsibility for creating this crisis,” said the bill’s sponsor, Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat. “There is compelling evidence that as early as the 1970s, many of the biggest fossil fuel companies knew far more about the disastrous long-term effects of burning fossil fuels than they had acknowledged or admitted to the public. .”
Infrastructure projects aimed at curbing climate change are estimated to cost New York City $10 billion a year by 2050.
The nation’s top 25 fossil fuel companies made nearly $100 billion in combined profits in the first three months of 2022. Exxon Mobile pocketed nearly $6 billion in profits in the first quarter of the year.
Three days away from the legislative session, the Climate Change Superfund Act will not move forward until lawmakers leave Albany for the year. But lawmakers went ahead and introduced the bill on Thursday anticipating that garnering support for the measure will be a long-term legislative project.
Assembly Codes Committee Chairman Jeff Dinowitz, a Democrat from the Bronx, is sponsoring the bill in the other chamber.
“We all know we have to do something about the damage that’s been done over the years,” Dinowitz said. “We have an opportunity with this legislation to try to address some of those issues.”
The DEC would assess and fine fossil fuel companies if they had an employment business relationship within the state. An industry could be charged without having a physical location in New York because harmful emissions cross state lines, lawmakers said.
The DEC, the State Department of Taxation and Finance, and the State Attorney General’s Office will enforce the Climate Change Superfund Act if signed into law.