Climate Change is Costing Us. It's Time for Big Oil to Pay Up. – Food and Water Watch

Fight like you live here.
Published Jul 8, 2024
Climate and Energy
States, including New York, are considering a Climate Superfund law, which would make fossil fuel companies pay for their role in today’s climate chaos.
In 2012, Superstorm Sandy crashed into New York with 80 mph winds and waves that soared 30 feet into the air before slamming into the shore. Down the East Coast and into the Caribbean, Sandy’s destruction took lives and livelihoods and ground many cities to a halt.
Almost ten years later, researchers estimated that Sandy cost communities $8 billion more than it would have in a non-climate-changed world. Advances in climate attribution science have allowed scientists to calculate how much of a disaster’s destruction lies directly at the feet of climate change — and the fossil fuel industry driving the crisis.
This is the foundation of climate Superfund laws, proposed in several states and in Congress, that would make Big Oil and Gas pay damages for climate chaos. In May, Vermont became the first state in the nation to pass a climate Superfund law. A few weeks later, another passed in New York’s state legislature, now awaiting Governor Kathy Hochul’s signature. And most recently, New Jersey lawmakers introduced their own Climate Superfund Act in the state legislature.
As costs for climate change and its attendant disasters continue to skyrocket, climate Superfund laws will be essential to adapt to a climate-changed world and hold Big Oil Accountable.
These laws are inspired by the federal Superfund law — officially the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) — which has guided much of the country’s response to toxic chemical contamination. For chemicals designated “hazardous,” polluters must clean up contamination and pay for it.
If passed, climate Superfund laws would create a fund to which Big Oil companies contribute, based on the amount of greenhouse gasses they’ve emitted. The funds would cover the costs of adapting to climate change and recovering from disasters, which will only continue to balloon. 
For example, New York’s Climate Change Superfund Act would collect $3 billion from Big Oil each year for 25 years. Each corporation’s contribution would be calculated based on their emissions from 2000 to 2018. It would only target companies that have emitted 1 billion metric tons of climate pollution or more, covering oil majors like Shell and Exxon, ensuring that the polluters most responsible pay up.
A climate-changed world is an expensive one. We will see more destructive disasters, new and different diseases, and more strain on the infrastructure that we rely on for vital services. Cities and states across the country face mounting costs for adapting buildings, transportation, energy, and water systems — many of which are already aging and/or in need of repair.
In New York, NYPIRG estimates that taxpayers in the state paid $2.2 billion in climate costs in 2023 alone, translating to $300 per household. Future costs for each and every family in New York City could top $50,000, given the city’s current plans.
Without climate Superfund legislation, these costs will fall to everyday families instead of the corporations who did the most damage. For example, in May, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced a $300 million investment in climate resiliency — funded by taxpayers.
While we need climate resiliency, it shouldn’t come out of the pockets of families who had little say in the business and policy decisions that kept us hooked on dirty energy.
Big Oil and Gas got us into this mess — it’s only fair that they pay to help clean it up. The industry’s choices have kept us reliant on fossil fuels, even though it knew the damage this would cause.
For instance, as early as the 1970s oil giant Exxon had conducted extensive in-house research on its own product’s harms to the planet. But it hid that research to ensure it could keep producing and profiting from fossil fuels. This deception helped delay public awareness and climate action for decades.
At the same time, the oil and gas industry has invested heavily in lobbying and campaign donations to tilt our political system in its favor. It’s pushing for policies that will lock us even further into a fossil fuel economy, making climate change even worse.
At the national level, the industry spent $133 million on lobbying in 2023, and it has poured more than $110 million into this election season already. The American Petroleum Institute, which represents nearly 600 fossil fuel companies, spent more than $100,000 last year lobbying New York state lawmakers alone. 
And while our communities pay the price for climate change and taxpayers foot the bill for its costs, the industry continues to grow. From 2021 to 2023, the top five oil and gas companies in the country pulled more than $250 billion in profits. This is an outrageous injustice that can only be remedied by bold policies.
Some have proposed taxing all emissions as a solution, but this would drive up costs for everyone who depends on fossil fuels, not just the corporations most responsible. Climate Superfund laws are fairer because they target fossil fuel corporations specifically. 
Big Oil and Gas has hidden the science, blocked climate policies, and slowed our transition to renewable energy. They have made fossil fuels unavoidable for everyone. It’s time they finally pay for getting us into this mess.
Those who oppose climate Superfund laws — namely, the fossil fuel industry and its allies — claim that making Big Oil pay for damages will raise gas prices. However, researchers recently reported that Superfund laws are unlikely to raise gas prices, since they are set on global markets.
Not passing polluter pays legislation is much more harmful to the public. Right now, local governments and taxpayers are shouldering the monumental costs of resiliency and repair. So it’s no surprise that in New York, local elected officials across the state have shown support for the Climate Change Superfund Act to alleviate the burden on their constituents.
The law has passed both houses — now all it needs is Governor Hochul’s signature. In June, she turned her back on congestion pricing legislation at the eleventh hour, leaving a gaping $16 billion hole in the city’s transit budget and declining to cut pollution in New York’s busiest streets. 
Now, the Governor must do the right thing and sign the Climate Change Superfund Act into law. This would not only help New Yorkers; it would also set an important example for similar legislation to hold Big Oil accountable across the country. 
New Yorkers, tell Governor Hochul to sign the Climate Change Superfund Act into Law!
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