Vermont passes the first of its kind Climate Superfund Cost Recovery Program – Polluters to be held Strict Liability

As of July 1, 2024, Vermont’s Climate Superfund Recovery Program (the “CSRP”) has now officially taken effect.  After the Legislature passed the CSRP, Governor Phil Scott (R) did NOT veto it, rather he allowed it to become law without his signature.

The new law, which can be found at, and requires the State Treasurer along with the Agency of Natural Resources, to report, by January 2026, on the costs to residents and the State from greenhouse gas emissions that occurred between January 1, 1995 and December 31, 2024. This comprehensive assessment is intended to include impacts on public health, natural resources, agriculture, economic development, and housing, using federal data to attribute emissions to specific fossil fuel companies.

The law creates a polluter-pays model, targeting companies involved in fossil fuel extraction or crude oil refining linked to over 1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions during the 1995 to 2024 specified period. Companies that have exceeded the 1 billion metric ton mark are required to pay for their pro rata share of climate adaption measures needed by the State.  The funds collected will then be specifically allocated to infrastructure improvements such as roads and bridge upgrades, storm water management and drainage systems, sewer treatment plant upgrades and retrofits and energy-efficient building enhancements.
The CSRP takes the position, much like the Federal Superfund laws, that the polluter in this case is strictly liable for its applicable share of costs incurred for climate change adaptation projects. Entities that are part of a controlled group are jointly and severally liable for the applicable costs.


The theory behind the approach to the CSRP is that the companies whom have specifically contributed to greenhouse gas impacts are the ones required to fund necessary upgrades to existing or necessary resiliency infrastructure and other “climate change adaptation projects” as defined under the CSRP.  The State Treasurer’s report is required to measure and provide a summary of various costs that have been incurred due to the greenhouse gases that were emitted during the relevant time period and costs that are projected to be incurred in the future within the State to abate the effects of covered greenhouse gas emissions from 1-1-95 through 12-31-25.

Green Spouts: The CSRP is the first of its kind state law that attempts to hold a polluter strictly liable for past acts that have created a negative impact on the State’s infrastructure and climate adaptability. The CSRP makes any entity or successor company that engaged in the trade or business of fossil fuel extraction or refining crude oil between 1-1-95 and 12-31-24 strictly liable for its share of costs incurred by the State.  The emitters are being held responsible for their respective portion of green house gas emissions above the 1 billion metric tons noted above.  Interestingly, Vermont is NOT alone here, as New York, Maryland and Massachusetts are considering similar legislation as well. Whether this type of State Superfund  strict liability law gets traction and passage by other states remains to be seen but it is surely an interesting development and one which bears watching, especially in light of the upcoming election.

Duane Morris has an active ESG and Sustainability Team to help organizations and individuals plan, respond to, and execute on your Sustainability and ESG planning and initiatives. For more information, please contact Brad A. Molotsky, David Amerikaner, Sheila Rafferty-Wiggins, Alice Shanahan, Jeff Hamera, Nanette Heide, Jolie-Anne Ansley, Robert Montejo or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.

Investments in Clean Buildings Announced by New York Governor

On the Duane Morris Construction Law Blog, attorney Jose A. Aquino writes that:

New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced new investments in clean and efficient buildings. As part of her 2023 State of the State, Governor Hochul introduced a series of building decarbonization initiatives, including zero-emission for new construction and the phase out of the sale of new fossil fuel heating equipment.

Read the full post.


ESG – State Plastic Bag and Straw Bans – An Update

Earlier this year, Duane Morris Governmental Services published an Alert that discussed states and municipalities across the country banning plastic bags in force. In addition to putting prohibitions on plastic bags, states and localities have also been looking at plastic straw bans as advocates look to reduce plastic pollution as plastics are not biodegradable and cannot break down naturally. It is estimated that Americans use 500 million drinking straws every day. While some legislation only contains plastic straw bans, other legislation loops plastic straws in with other plastic prohibitions.

Lawmakers in Connecticut introduced HB 6502 earlier this year to prohibit the automatic distribution of single-use plastic straws at certain eating establishments. Specifically, the bill would, effective January 1, 2022, prohibit full-service restaurants from providing customers with single-use plastic straws unless they request it or if the customer has a disability. The legislation defines a “full-service restaurant” as an establishment that primarily services food to be consumed on-site and where an employee does the following: (1) escorts and seats the customer, (2) takes the customer’s food and beverage order after the customer is seated, (3) delivers the order and any requested related items to the customer, and (4) brings the check for the order to the customer’s table.

Violations under the bill would result in a restaurant owner or operator receiving warnings for a first or second violation and a fine for a third violation. The fine would be $25 for each day of the violation, up to $300 in a single year. Enforcement power would belong to a municipal or district health department that has jurisdiction over the restaurant. The plastic straw ban bill additionally does not prohibit municipalities from adopting or implementing ordinances or rules that further restrict a full-service restaurant from providing customers single-use plastic straws, as long as the ordinance or rule does not prohibit a restaurant from providing a single-use plastic straw to someone with a disability.

HB 6502 additionally would phase out the use of particular polystyrene trays and food containers.

In March 2021, Maine lawmakers introduced LD 602, which would prohibit the manufacture, sale, and distribution, at retail or wholesale, of single-use plastic straws, splash sticks, and beverage lid plugs made entirely or partly of plastic.

The legislation further prohibits food and eating establishments from providing such items to customers at a point of sale or making them available to customers otherwise. However, food and eating establishments are allowed to provide single-use drinking straws, splash sticks, or beverage lid plugs not made of plastic only upon a customer’s request. The establishment must further collect a fee from the customer of no less than $0.05 for each item provided.

Massachusetts lawmakers introduced H. 998 earlier this year to restrict the distribution of single-use plastic straws by prohibiting food establishments from providing such straws to customers unless requested by the customer. H. 998 defines a “food establishment” as an operation that stores, prepares, packages, serves, vends, or otherwise provides food for human consumption, including but not limited to any establishment requiring a permit to operate under the State Food Code.

The bill states that the straw ban shall not include a straw made from non-plastic materials, such as paper, pasta, sugar cane, wood, or bamboo.

In mid-June, lawmakers scheduled a virtual hearing to address the plastic straw ban legislation. However, the bill has not seen any action since.

This past session, Mississippi lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 2071, which would have prohibited a food establishment from providing a single-use plastic straw unless a consumer requested such a straw.

The bill’s definition of a “food establishment” is comprehensive. The bill’s definition of a food establishment is as follows: all sales outlets, stores, shops, or other places of business located within the State of Mississippi that operate primarily to sell or convey food directly to the ultimate consumer, including any place where food is prepared, mixed, cooked, baked, smoked, preserved, bottled, packaged, handled, stored, manufactured and sold or offered for sale, including, but not limited to, any fixed or mobile restaurant, drive-in, coffee shop, cafeteria, short order cafe, delicatessen, luncheonette, grill, sandwich shop, soda fountain, tavern, bar, cocktail lounge, nightclub, roadside stand, prepared food take-out place, catering kitchen, commissary, grocery store, public food market, food stand or similar place in which food or drink is prepared for sale or for service on the premises or elsewhere, and any other establishment or operation where food is processed, prepared, stored, served or provided for the public for charge.

SB 2071 died in committee in February 2021.

New York:
Two companion bills in New York have been introduced this year related to plastic straws. A207 and S1505 would allow restaurants to only provide single-use plastic straws unless requested by a customer. The legislation otherwise prohibits restaurants from providing customers with single-use plastic straws or single-use plastic stirrers. Further, the bill specifies that restaurants providing compostable straws or stirrers to customers must have access to curbside food waste collection for composting.

The bills define a restaurant as any diner or other eating or beverage establishment that offers food or beverages for sale to the public, guests, members, or patrons, whether consumption occurs on or off the premises.

Neither bill has advanced this session.

Rhode Island:
In July, Governor Daniel McKee signed House Bill 5131/ Senate Bill 155 into law. The new law prohibits a food service establishment from providing a single-use plastic straw to a consumer unless the consumer requests it. The bill will take effect January 1, 2022, and tasks the director of health with promulgating and adopting rules and regulations to enforce the new plastic straw ban.

Rhode Island’s new plastic straw ban defines a “single-use plastic straw” as a single-use, disposable tube made predominantly of plastic derived from either petroleum or a biologically based polymer, such as corn or other plant sources, used to transfer a beverage from a container to the mouth of the person drinking the beverage. Single-use straws, under the bill, do not include a straw made from non-plastic materials, including, but not limited to, paper, pasta, sugar cane, wood, or bamboo.

The bill further defines a “food service establishment” as any fixed or mobile restaurant, coffee shop, cafeteria, short-order cafe, luncheonette, grill, tearoom, sandwich shop, soda fountain, tavern; bar, cocktail lounge, night club, roadside stand, industrial feeding establishment, cultural heritage education facility, private, public or nonprofit organization or institution routinely serving food, catering kitchen, commissary or similar place in which food or drink is prepared for sale or for service on the premises or elsewhere, and any other eating or drinking establishment or operation where food is served or provided for the public with or without charge.

New Jersey:

On Nov. 4, 2020, Governor Murphy signed into law P.L. 2020, c117, which prohibits the use of single-use plastic carryout bags in all stores and food service businesses statewide and single-use paper carryout bags in grocery stores that occupy at least 2,500 square feet beginning May 4, 2022.

Beginning May 4, 2022, New Jersey businesses may not sell or provide single-use plastic carryout bags to their customers. Those businesses that decide to sell or provide reusable carryout bags must ensure that the bags meet the requirements as defined in the law.

The law defines reusable bags as ones that:

  • Are made of polypropylene fabric, PET non-woven fabric, nylon, cloth, hemp product, or other washable fabric; and
  • Have stitched handles; and
  • Are designed and manufactured for multiple reuses.

Under the new law, polystyrene foam food service products and foods sold or provided in polystyrene foam food service products will also be banned as of May 4, 2022, and food service businesses will only be allowed to provide single-use plastic straws by request starting Nov. 4, 2021.

However, the following products will be exempt for an additional two years, until May 4, 2024:

  • Disposable, long-handled polystyrene foam soda spoons when required and used for thick drinks;
  • Portion cups of two ounces or less, if used for hot foods or foods requiring lids;
  • Meat and fish trays for raw or butchered meat, including poultry, or fish that is sold from a refrigerator or similar retail appliance;
  • Any food product pre-packaged by the manufacturer with a polystyrene foam food service product; and
  • Any other polystyrene foam food service product as determined necessary by the DEP.

Triple Bottom Line – While it is often inconvenient to not be in a position to carry goods from a store or restaurant in a plastic bag or to drink from a plastic straw, as more states focus on the burgeoning problem of plastic waste entering the water supply and creating land fill capacity concerns, it is very likely that more and more states will continue to enact some level of plastic bag and plastic straw bans as a means to begin to combat this issue.  Recycling of plastic would also start to begin to address the issue but has not become an economic reality as of yet given the cost to build facilities that could gather and recycle the applicable plastic in bags and straws and similar materials.

Duane Morris has an active ESG and Sustainability Team to help organizations and individuals plan, respond to, and execute on Sustainability and ESG planning and initiatives within their own space. We would be happy to discussion your proposed project with you. For more information, or if you have any questions about this post, please contact Ryan Stevens, the author or Brad A. Molotsky, Nanette Heide, Seth Cooley, David Amerikaner, Jolie-Anne Ansley, Hari Kumar, or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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