New Policy Innovation Would Force Fossil Fuel Companies to Pay for Their Risky Behavior

For Immediate Release

June 3, 2016


Press calls: Dr. John Talberth, president and senior economist, CSE: 510-384-5724

(Portland, OR) Hours after an oil train car derailment near the Columbia River in Mosier, OR, with at least one oil tank car on fire, it was too soon to tell how much this accident would cost: In first responders’ time and resources, in time missed from school for elementary students and their teachers in nearby Mosier Elementary School, in hours of delays as I-84 was shut down, in public health costs from the thick plume of smoke that could be seen from miles away, in evacuations for nearby residents.

A recent study produced by the Washington Attorney General’s Office found that a worst case scenario oil train tanker spill on the Columbia River could cost more than $170 million in damages.  These costs too often have the taxpayer picking up the tab, not the polluter because insurance coverage is only available for minor accidents.  A recent study produced by the Center for Sustainable Economy (CSE), “Fossil Fuel Risk Bonds: Making Polluters Pay for the Climate Crisis,” has found that fossil fuel companies are passing on huge financial risks to taxpayers, and politicians are simply turning their backs on the problem instead of holding those companies accountable.

At each stage of the fossil fuel product life cycle, taxpayers are increasingly burdened with a litany of costs associated with oil train derailments such as the one in Mosier, fracking-induced earthquake swarms, pipeline explosions, abandoned infrastructure, water pollution and, of course, the costs of climate change. Fossil fuel risk bond programs – a policy innovation proposed by CSE  – can help reverse this glaring inequity by shifting the economic risk back where it belongs: on the polluters.

As set forth in CSE’s new report, fossil fuel risk bond programs are systematic efforts that state and local governments can take to evaluate and respond to the financial risks they face at each stage of the fossil fuel lifecycle in their jurisdictions. The benefits could be huge for states, counties, and cities struggling with rising fossil fuel disaster-related and climate-related costs with no clear way to pay for them.

While helping to place the burden of payment where it belongs, on the risky industry, fossil fuel risk bond programs provide a way to ramp up the funding necessary to put scores of people to work – including displaced oil, gas, and coal workers – while ramping down fossil fuel consumption, decommissioning obsolete fossil fuel infrastructure, restoring mines, oil platform sites, and gas well pads back into a natural condition and implementing climate adaptation projects to help make communities safe in the face climate disasters.

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