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Democrats Seek $500 Billion in Climate Damages From Big Polluting Companies

Amy Myers Jaffe comments on a proposed bill to charge major U.S. oil and gas companies fees based on their greenhouse gas emissions in The New York Times.

Democrats in Congress want to tax ExxonChevron and a handful of other major oil and gas companies, saying the biggest climate polluters should pay for the floods, wildfires and other disasters that scientists have linked to the burning of fossil fuels.

The draft legislation from Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland 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 assess a fee based on the amounts they emitted.

That could generate an estimated $500 billion over the next decade, according to Mr. Van Hollen. The money would pay for clean energy research and development as well as help communities face the flooding, fires and other disasters that scientists say are growing more destructive and frequent because of a warming planet.

The bill for the largest polluters could be as much as $6 billion annually spread over 10 years, according to a draft of the plan.

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Under the Democrats’ plan, the tax would be applied to U.S. companies and foreign companies with American subsidiaries. Companies also would have the ability to dispute the government’s determination.

“Responsibility to pay would be based on a strict liability standard,” according to a draft of the plan. “There is no requirement to prove negligence or intentional wrongdoing. The proposal does not assign blame for specific damages — it simply ensures that these companies contribute to the solution.”

Amy M. Jaffe, managing director of the Climate Policy Lab at Tufts University’s FletcherSchool, said while the proposal may raise money, she was skeptical about 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 substitution for proper regulation and enforcement to end pollution.”

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