Democrats Want $500 Billion in Climate Damage from Major Pollution


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 associate with burning fossil fuels.

Draft legislation from Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen directs the Treasury Department and the Environmental Protection Agency to identify the companies that released the most greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from 2000 to 2019 and set a fee based on the amounts they emit.

According to Mr. Van Hollen, this could generate an estimated $500 billion over the next decade. Alongside clean energy research and development, the money will help communities face floods, fires and other disasters that scientists say are becoming more devastating and frequent due to a warming planet.

According to a draft of the plan, the bill for the largest polluters could be up to $6 billion annually spread over 10 years.

“It is based on the simple but powerful idea that the polluters should pay to clean up the mess they cause and the polluters the most should pay the most,” Mr Van Hollen said in an interview. “Those who benefit most should help pay for the damage they have already caused.”

The proposal comes as the Senate prepares to vote. bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure package this includes billions of dollars to help communities prepare for and recover from extreme weather conditions caused by climate change. Democrats hope to pass later A separate $3.5 trillion budget package This will include measures to reduce carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels that help raise global temperatures.

A tax on polluting corporations has the support of liberal lawmakers, including Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders, as well as Senators Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, all Democrats.

Mr. Van Hollen said he was optimistic that the bill would find broad support within his party and be added to the budget reconciliation package that Democrats hope to pass without the Republicans’ votes. But that will require all Democrats in the narrowly divided Senate to support the measure, including Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who routinely opposes anti-fossil fuel laws.

While several major oil companies, the Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute, the nation’s largest oil and gas trading group, supported the carbon emissions tax, fossil fuel advocates said Tuesday it was unfair to target a handful of companies.

Thomas J. Pyle, head of the Energy Research Institute, who supports the expansion of the use of fossil fuels, questioned the legality of Mr. Van Hollen’s tax plan.

“Laughable,” he said.

Mr. Pyle said he was stunned by the idea of ​​taxing individual companies and said, “I can’t imagine any court case where that would apply.”

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 trade group supports a “market-based, economy-wide carbon price policy” to combat climate change.

A comprehensive scientific report The report, published by 13 federal agencies in 2018, concluded that human activities, particularly greenhouse gas emissions produced by fossil fuel-powered power plants, factories and automobiles, are the dominant cause of global temperature rise.

The report concluded that extreme weather events, exacerbated by global warming, would cause hundreds of billions of dollars a year in damage in the United States alone. In 2020, the country saw a record 22 disasters, each causing at least $1 billion in damage, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Increasingly, climate activists are demanding compensation from those most directly responsible for carbon emissions: the companies that produce them.

“These oil companies and their executives are by far the most responsible parties to the climate crisis,” said Lee Wasserman, director of the Rockefeller Family Fund, a philanthropic group that helped develop the proposed legislation.

Oil companies blame the Rockefeller Family Fund financing a climate conspiracy by funding research used in lawsuits against the fossil fuel industry.

If the Democratic proposal becomes law, the U.S. government would target companies responsible for at least 0.05 percent of total carbon dioxide and methane emissions in the atmosphere from 2000 to 2019. This will apply to 25 to 30 companies. Mr Van Hollen’s aides said the legislation only aimed to look back to 2000 because the old data was not considered reliable or uniform.

To identify the biggest emitters, the government can cite a growing body of research developed by Richard Heede, a US researcher. Climate Responsibility Instituteis a nonprofit advocacy group. Mr. Heede in 2014 quantitative finding that only 90 companies worldwide are responsible for nearly two-thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions since the beginning of industrialization.

The study found that the 20 largest companies were responsible for about 30 percent of the emissions.

The list includes foreign entities such as Saudi Aramco and Gazprom, as well as US-based companies such as Exxon Mobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips.

Under the Democrats’ plan, the tax would apply to US companies and foreign companies with American subsidiaries. Companies will also have the opportunity to appeal the government’s decision.

According to an outline of the plan, “Payment liability will be based on a strict standard of liability”. “There is no obligation to prove negligence or willful misconduct. The proposal does not charge for specific damages – it simply allows these companies to contribute to the solution.”

Amy M. Jaffe, managing director of the Fletcher Climate Policy Lab at Tufts University While the school said the proposal could raise money, it said it was skeptical about whether it would necessitate a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

“The best way to change behavior is to regulate it,” he said. “Nothing can replace proper regulation and enforcement to end pollution.”

Richard J. Lazarus, a professor of law at Harvard University, said he believed the proposal could withstand legal challenges.

He likened the climate fund to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Accountability Act, also known as the Superfund, which Congress created in 1980 to force polluting companies to pay to clean up toxic areas.

Mr. Lazarus noted that chemical companies sued to block the program but were unsuccessful. And, “Any difference between the hazardous waste problems of the 1980s and the climate change problems of our time is cut in favor of this law,” he said.


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