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Bill Proposes $30B In Utility Company Payments For Past Pollution

Emissions rise from the smokestacks at the Jeffrey Energy Center coal power plant as the suns sets, near Emmett, Kansas, United States. The U.N. health agency said Monday, April 4, 2022, nearly everybody in the world breathes air that doesn’t meet its standards for air quality, calling for more action to reduce fossil-fuel use, which generates pollutants that cause respiratory and blood-flow problems and lead to millions of preventable deaths each year. AP file photo

Anyone tired of higher electric and gas rates should keep an eye on a piece of legislation proposed in the state Senate near the end of this year’s legislation.

Rates could be going up even more as part of a proposed $30 billion proposal that would fine fossil fuel companies for their activities dating back some 70 years. S.9417 is sponsored by Sen. Liz Krueger, D-New York City, and would create the Climate Change Adaptation Cost Recovery Program. The proposed program would require companies that have been found to contribute to the buildup of greenhouse gases to bear some of the costs of new environmentally friendly infrastructure. Those costs would likely be passed on to consumers in the form of fuel adjustment charges if the legislation is passed. Consumers already pay electric and gas companies’ charges related to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, Renewable Energy Credits and Zero Emissions Credits.

Krueger likened her proposa to the state Superfund program or the state Oil Spill Fund, in wehich entities responsible for spills or environmental contamination are charged to clean up the damage. No such program exists for atmospheric pollution from burning fossil fuels.

“Nonetheless, it is important to recognize that the actions of many of the biggest fossil fuel companies have been unconscionable, closely reflecting the strategy of denial, deflection and delay perfected by the tobacco industry,” Krueger wrote. “In spite of the information provided by their own scientists that the continued burning of fossil fuels would have catastrophic results, these companies hid the truth from the public and actively spread false information that the science of climate change was uncertain when in fact it was beyond controversy. This breach of public trust was breathtaking in its scope and consequences, and it continues to this day. For example, while claiming a commitment to renewable energy, Chevron invested only 2% and ExxonMobil only 1.6% of their total capital investments in low-carbon sources.”

As proposed, the program operates under a standard of strict liability, with companies required to pay into the program because the use of their products caused pollution. No finding of wrongdoing in a court or before a regulatory agency is required for companies to be required to pay into the system. Charges would be based on the amount of coal or crude oil a company used, with an equation used to turn the amount of fossil fuel used into an equivalent of carbon dioxide released by each fossil fuel company.

“Based on decades of research it is now possible to determine with great accuracy the share of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by specific fossil fuel companies over the last 70 years or more, making it possible to assign liability to and require compensation from companies commensurate with their emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere during a given time period” Krueger wrote in her legislative justification.

Payments would be used for new or upgraded infrastructure needs such as sea walls, storm water drain system upgrades and air conditioning in public buildings, including school buildings. At least 35% of the funding would go to projects in disasdantaged communities.

Such legislation is viewed as necessary by some elected officials because of the costs associated with meeting the state’s 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which calls for an 85% decrease in fossil fuel emissions by 2050. A report commissioned by the Climate Action Council, which the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act created and tasked with drafting a scoping plan to implement the 2019 law, puts the price of implementation at between $280 and $340 billion. If nothing changs, such costs are likely to come with energy deficits, according to the Empire Center for New York State Policy. A recent Empire Center report, “Cold And Dark: New York’s Risky Energy Future” includes the following piece of analysis — “The Climate Action Council, which is responsible for writing the Climate Act’s Scoping Plan, is also aware of the problem. The Draft Scoping Plan explicitly states that ‘there is a remaining need for 15 – 25 GW of [installed generation capacity] in 2040 to meet demand and maintain reliability.'”

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