Pennsylvania taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay for Big Oil’s actions

Addressing the climate crisis cannot be separated from the fight for racial and economic justice. Whether it’s extreme heat, flooding or crumbling infrastructure, we know that our increasingly volatile climate is hitting our most vulnerable residents the hardest. That’s why it’s critical that we thoughtfully — and urgently — invest in protecting our communities from the impacts of our changing climate.

According to a recent study by the Center for Climate Integrity, it will cost more than $15 billion to stave off a limited scope of climate impacts in Pennsylvania by 2040. While the report only calculated the cost of adapting to eight climate impacts, the scale of these costs on local governments is shocking. In Philadelphia alone, the annual cost of responding to eight climate change impacts will exceed spending for 40 of the city's 48 departments, including the Departments of Public Health and Human Services.

Every summer, more cooling centers must be activated to protect our residents from extreme heat. Just a few weeks ago, intense rains caused flash flooding in my district of Philadelphia and beyond, killing at least six people in Bucks County. The impacts of this climate crisis are felt by our communities every day and will continue to get worse if we don’t act with urgency.

Our state is projected to get hotter and rainier in the years ahead. The demand for cooling centers will increase as extreme heat days skyrocket from five to 37 per year by 2040. Deluges of rain will not only cause more damage to our roadways and increase landslide risks, but trigger far more sewer system overflows if stormwater capacity is not expanded — a project that would cost over $7 billion alone.

It should come as no surprise that the state legislature does not have $15 billion for climate adaptation tucked away in a rainy-day fund. But allowing the climate crisis to continue encroaching on our communities’ health and wellbeing unimpeded is also not an option. Neither is sticking working class taxpayers with the burden of these costs when they are already bearing the brunt of heat waves, flooding and other climate impacts.

In a just world, those who caused the problem should pay for the damages.

We are not all equally responsible for this crisis. Nearly half a century ago, oil and gas companies knew their products would cause “catastrophic” impacts to the environment. Instead of warning the public and kickstarting the transition to cleaner energy, the oil industry launched a disinformation campaign to conceal their climate harm and protect their profits. Now, fossil fuel polluters lie about their commitments to transitioning to clean energy, are walking back their green energy commitments and double down on gas and oil investments to boost profits.

In 2022, oil companies raked in a record $219 billion in profits, while Pennsylvanians suffered yet another year of worsening climate impacts. It’s only fair that these monied companies who created the climate crisis contribute to protecting our communities from its impacts.

More than 40 states and communities in the U.S. have sued oil companies, demanding the companies most responsible for our climate emergency be held accountable for their decades of lies. It’s not a novel concept.

Tobacco companies and opioid manufacturers were held accountable for lying to the public about the harms of their products for years, devastating communities with addiction and illness. Fossil fuel companies followed the tobacco industry’s playbook, and oil executives knowingly watched as they fueled the destruction of our climate in exchange for massive profits.

Pennsylvania communities have an opportunity to sue Big Oil and protect our residents from being stuck with the bill to adapt to the climate crisis that Big Oil created. The worsening impacts of this climate crisis will continue whether we’re ready or not; it’s time to be proactive and protect our communities.

It’s time for Pennsylvania to make Big Oil pay.