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Bill that would make Vermont the first state to have a 'Climate Superfund' takes a key step forward

A man wearing a gray suit and a brown cap sits at the head of a sturdy long table in a Committee room in the Vermont statehouse.
Abagael Giles
/
Vermont Public
Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, sponsored the bill. He says it's important that Vermont taxpayers aren't forced to shoulder the cost burden of adapting to climate change.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Friday morning to advance a bill that aims to collect damages from big oil companies for the harm their products have brought and will continue to bring to Vermont by causing climate change.

The Climate Superfund Act directs the state treasurer to work with climate scientists to catalog the damage Vermont has seen due to climate change between 1995 and 2024 — and what it will cost to adapt to a warmer future with more volatile weather. That plan would be due back to lawmakers at the start of 2026.

The bill also directs the Agency of Natural Resources and treasurer to work across state agencies on a resilience implementation strategy, which would lay out a roadmap for how Vermont can become more resilient in the face of climate change, due back to lawmakers at the start of next session.

Ultimately, the bill requires that companies that extracted or refined fossil fuels pay the state a percentage of what their products cost Vermonters by way of climate damages, in proportion to how much they emitted globally.

The committee voted 5-0 to advance the bill, with bipartisan support.

Chair Dick Sears, a Democrat from Bennington County, said such bipartisan support for a policy is rare in the Statehouse. He thanked advocates and members of the administration for working together to reach consensus on the policy.

“This is an effort to make sure that cost recovery — we're talking millions and millions of dollars — is not borne by the taxpayer," Sears said.

Anthony Iarrapino, a lawyer with the Conservation Law Foundation who is lobbying in support of the bill, called the administration’s support significant.

“This is an effort to make sure that cost recovery — we're talking millions and millions of dollars — is not borne by the taxpayer."
Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington

“Unfortunately, on a national level, climate change issues have been politicized in a partisan way,” he said. “But I think as more states like Vermont experience the total devastation from fossil-fuel-driven climate change, and confront the mounting costs to taxpayers and private residents, that partisanship is going to fall away. And people are going to realize there’s a long tradition of ‘the polluter pays’ in American law.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Baruth sits on the Judiciary Committee, and said he initially had trepidation about the bill.

“I still believe it’s liable to produce court action, and by passing this out, I feel we are committing to paying the costs of that court action,” Baruth said. “But after long thought, I can’t see another way that we can force payment for the damages we’re suffering.”

Baruth said he is now “fully onboard” with the policy, and “It’s my hope that we won’t be 10 years in court before we’re actually seeing our costs recovered.”

If the bill becomes law, Vermont could start to seek damages in 2027.

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

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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.