The impacts of climate change are in the news nearly every day with extreme weather events, wildfires, droughts and other catastrophes taking place with disturbing regularity.
Decades ago, scientists warned that continued over-reliance on fossil fuels would accelerate this process of global warming – or climate change, making unusual weather events more common and putting our economy and our way of life in danger.
The scientists were right: Minnesota is now witnessing higher temperatures, more flooding and changes to our ecosystem, leading to significant loss of habitat for many prominent fish species, including trout, walleye and bass. The strongest of these impacts are already felt in northern Minnesota, and the entire state is at risk as climate change continues to take a toll on the state and the nation.
Since by law, the feds don’t step in until a disaster is beyond a state’s ability to respond, state and local governments are reeling from costly repairs and mitigation measures they have been forced to incur because of climate change.
Some of these jurisdictions, including Minnesota, are filing lawsuits against the largest oil and gas companies to recoup some of these climate-induced costs.
Does this scenario sound familiar?
It is reminiscent of how states sued tobacco companies and opioid manufacturers for hiding, or downplaying, the health dangers of their products.
In fact, the oil and gas industry has been aware of the climate risks of its carbon emissions for more than a half-century, since the mid-1960s.
Whether or not one believes litigation is the correct course of action, what irritates me, as a former United States senator who attempted to enforce fiscal responsibility in our federal budget, is that big oil and gas companies want to foist the cost largely onto the backs of taxpayers, even though these companies knew long ago that their products would cause “catastrophic” damages.
Incredibly, just 100 investor- and state-owned multinational fossil-fuel companies are responsible for around 70 percent of the world’s historical greenhouse gas emissions.
These companies hid, or downplayed, the dangers of their products from shareholders, regulators and taxpayers as the industry broadened its marketing to every corner of the globe.
Now, as the devastating effects of climate change from fossil fuels become apparent, federal, state and local taxpayers are forced to foot the bill to cover infrastructure damage, loss of lives and other impacts.
The growth in the cost of disasters attributable to climate change in recent decades is staggering: Presidential disaster declarations (which trigger the flow of federal funds) have tripled since the 1960s, while the federal flood insurance program has borrowed more than $36 billion in just the past decade.
We must ask ourselves tough questions: How do we as a nation tackle these increasing costs and stop them from getting worse?
Why are these burdens falling almost entirely on taxpayers?
Instead of negotiating an equitable solution to address the damage from its products, the industry is attempting to shift the blame – and the costs – away from itself, telling consumers to believe that their own individual “carbon footprint” and personal lifestyle choices are responsible for climate change, diverting focus from the industry’s massive contribution of carbon pollution into the atmosphere.
For decades, the largest oil and gas companies knew their products would accelerate harmful climate change. In response, they chose to lie and publicly attack the science.
These companies should be held accountable for their actions and how they have contributed to this costly problem American taxpayers face.
After subsidizing the industry for more than 100 years, taxpayers should not pick up the tab for the oil and gas industry’s biggest mess. This industry is one of the most profitable in history.
It is time to hold the industry accountable and stop using taxpayer funds to cover its liabilities.
— David Durenberger, a St. Cloud native, served as Republican senator from Minnesota from 1978-1995.
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