Democrats Seek $500 Billion in Climate Damages From Big Polluting Companies
WASHINGTON – Democrats in Congress want to tax Exxon, Chevron and a handful of other big oil and gas companies, saying the biggest climate polluters should pay for floods, wildfires and other disasters that scientists have linked to the burning of fossil fuels.
Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen’s bill asks the Treasury Department and the Environmental Protection Agency to identify the companies that emitted the most greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from 2000 to 2019 and assess a royalty based on the quantities emitted.
This could generate around $ 500 billion over the next decade, according to Van Hollen. The money would go to fund clean energy research and development and help communities cope with floods, fires and other disasters that scientists say are becoming more destructive and frequent due to the Global warming.
The bill for the biggest polluters could reach $ 6 billion per year, spread over 10 years, according to a draft of the plan.
“It’s based on a simple but powerful idea that polluters should pay to help clean up the mess they’ve caused, and that those who polluted the most should pay the most,” Van Hollen said in a statement. interview. “Those who have benefited the most should now help pay for the damage they have already caused. “
The proposal comes as the Senate prepares to vote on a $ 1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package that includes billions of dollars to help communities prepare for and recover from the extreme weather conditions brought on by climate change. . Democrats later hope to pass a separate $ 3.5 trillion budget that will include measures to reduce carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases resulting from the burning of fossil fuels and which help increase emissions. global temperatures.
A tax on polluting businesses has the backing of Liberal lawmakers including Senator Bernie Sanders, the Independent from Vermont, as well as Senators Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, all Democrats.
Mr Van Hollen is optimistic that his legislation will find broad support within his party and be tied to the budget reconciliation package, which Democrats hope to pass without Republican votes. But that would require all Democrats in the tightly divided Senate to back the measure, including West Virginia’s Joe Manchin III, who has consistently opposed anti-fossil fuel legislation.
While several major oil companies, the Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute – the country’s largest oil and gas trading group – back a tax on carbon emissions, fossil fuel advocates said on Tuesday that targeting a handful of companies was unfair.
Thomas J. Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, which supports the increased use of fossil fuels, questioned the legality of Mr Van Hollen’s tax plan.
“It’s laughable,” he said.
Mr Pyle said he was stunned by the idea of targeting sole proprietorships to be taxed, adding “I can’t imagine any court in which this would fit.”
Exxon Mobil and Chevron did not respond to requests for comment.
Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, declined to comment on the proposal, but said in a statement that the oil and gas trading group supports “a market-based carbon pricing policy and to the scale of the economy “to combat climate change.
A comprehensive scientific report released in 2018 by 13 federal agencies concluded that human activities, particularly greenhouse gas emissions produced by power plants, factories and automobiles running on fossil fuels, are the dominant cause of the increase in global temperature.
The report concluded that extreme weather events made worse by global warming would cause hundreds of billions of dollars in damage per year in the United States alone. In 2020, the country saw a record 22 disasters that each caused damage of at least $ 1 billion, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Increasingly, climate activists are seeking redress from those most directly responsible for carbon emissions: the companies that produced them.
“These oil companies and their executives are by far the parties most responsible for the urgency of the climate crisis,” said Lee Wasserman, director of the Rockefeller Family Fund, a philanthropic group that helped shape the proposed legislation. .
Oil companies have accused the Rockefeller Family Fund of funding a climate conspiracy by funding research that has been used in litigation against the fossil fuel industry.
If the Democratic proposal passes, the US government would target companies responsible for at least 0.05% of total carbon dioxide and methane emissions to the atmosphere from 2000 to 2019. This would apply to 25 to 30 companies. . Aides Mr Van Hollen said the legislation aims to only go back to 2000 because older data is not considered reliable or consistent.
To determine the biggest emitters, the government could cite a growing body of research developed by Richard Heede, a researcher at the Climate Accountability Institute, a nonprofit advocacy group. In 2014, Mr. Heede quantified the annual output of each major fossil fuel company and converted it into carbon emissions – finding just 90 companies globally were responsible for nearly two-thirds of all gas emissions at greenhouse effect since the start of industrialization.
The top 20 companies are responsible for nearly 30% of emissions, according to the study.
The list includes foreign entities like Saudi Aramco and Gazprom as well as US-based companies including Exxon Mobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips.
According to the Democrats’ plan, the tax would be applied to US companies and foreign companies with US subsidiaries. Businesses would also have the ability to challenge the government’s decision.
“The responsibility to pay would be based on a strict liability standard,” according to a draft plan. “There is no obligation to prove negligence or intentional wrongdoing. The proposal doesn’t assign blame for specific damages – it just ensures that those companies are contributing to the solution. “
Amy M. Jaffe, Executive Director of the Climate Policy Lab at Tufts University Fletcher The school said that while the proposal could raise funds, it was skeptical whether it would force a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
“The best way to change behavior is to regulate it,” she said. “There is no substitute for proper regulation and enforcement to end pollution. “
Richard J. Lazarus, a law professor at Harvard University, said he believed the proposal could stand up to legal challenges.
He compared the climate fund to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, also known as the Superfund, which Congress created in 1980 to force polluting companies to pay to clean up toxic sites.
Lazarus noted that the chemical companies have taken legal action to block the program but have failed. And, he said, “all the differences between the hazardous waste problems of the 1980s and the climate change problems of our time are in favor of this legislation.”
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