The Legislature is once again trying to move forward with a bill to mandate lifetime medical monitoring coverage to Vermonters who may have been exposed to toxic chemicals such as the PFAS family of hazardous greeblies. Lawmakers passed such a bill in 2018 and 2019, only to see it vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott both times for his usual weak-ass reasons.
Well, now we know exactly how closely the administration was coordinating its stance with big corporate interests. Short version: Hand in glove. Or footsie under the table, if you prefer.
This revelation doesn’t come from Vermont’s sadly diminished political press, but from The Hill in faraway Washington, D.C. On January 26, The Hill posted the second in a four-part series on efforts to defeat such legislation in multiple states. The opening paragraph lays out the thesis:
State-level efforts to help victims of “forever chemical” exposure get compensation have met resistance from both governments and industry — and this pushback has been particularly effective in Republican-led states.
Like for instance, Vermont, which is the focus of the 1/26 story. It draws on public records requests that uncovered how “an official in the governor’s office coordinated with a lobbyist in ‘watering down'” the bill.
The official was Ethan Latour, then assistant spokesflack for Scott and now Deputy Finance Commissioner (because flackery is such good preparation for a high-level fiscal management post). The most telling moment: Latour sent an email to Warren Coleman of MMR, the top black-hat lobby shop in Montpelier, in which he shared a draft of a policy memo to the governor. Yep, Latour was making sure his memo danced to Coleman’s tune.
But that’s not the most telling part! In the email, Latour made reference to “his/our proposal,” meaning a weakened version of the bill which was a joint effort between the administration and Coleman’s corporate paymasters.
One more snuggly little detail: Before Latour joined the Scott administration, he worked for…. wait for it… MMR.
Update. Latour doesn’t work for the state anymore. He’s on the Secretary of State’s Lobbyist registry as a lobbyist employed by… wait for it… MMR. Isn’t that special!
Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with consulting lobbyists. The Legislature does it all the time. And Montpelier is infamous for its revolving door between government and lobbying. But that “his/our” business? And clearing his memo with Coleman? That bespeaks a fervent desire to do the bidding of corporate polluters. Apparently Latour realized this because in a later draft he changed “his/our” to “their,” which is about as subtle as wiping fingerprints off a murder weapon.
In the end, the Latour/Coleman team failed to sufficiently weaken the 2019 bill, so Scott vetoed it. His reasoning: the bill would subject manufacturers to “unknown legal and financial risks, and increased liability” and possibly discourage companies from staying here or moving here.
He made no mention of the life-long “unknown risks” assumed involuntarily by those exposed to toxic chemicals. But we already know who Scott’s real friends are.
As this debate progresses yet again, expect the governor to float the same arguments. You can also expect the same level of back-channel collaboration with corporate polluters, likely mediated by the same lobby shop. Just remember that when Scott makes arguments about what’s best for Vermont, he’s singing from the corporate hymnal.
And he’s following the same pro-corporate policy as other Republican governors, in case you were wondering how exceptional Phil Scott really is.