This column regularly bemoans the influence of lobbyists in our Statehouse. It’s less about overt corruption and more about relationships and the difficulty faced by unstaffed part-time lawmakers in assessing complicated issues.
But this week has brought us a couple of cases in which the Legislature — so far — has resisted the blandishments of the Folks In Smart Suits. First, the state Senate has unanimously approved a bill to ban PFAS and other toxic chemicals from a range of products. Second, a bill to establish a Right to Repair for agricultural and forestry equipment has made it through a House committee. Both bills represent modest but measurable victories for consumers over industry.
(And let me note that we may not have heard about either action if not for VTDigger’s Final Reading, which provides a valuable space for coverage of legislative happenings that might not warrant standalone treatment.)
Efforts to ban toxic chemicals always draw fire from the lobbyist crowd, but S.25 has survived its ordeal in the Senate. The bill would ban an array of chemicals, most notably PFAS, from menstrual and cosmetic products, textiles, clothing, outdoor apparel and my favorite, athletic turf fields.
A lobbyist representing an impressive array of chemical producers and interest groups issued the usual warning of “unintended consequences” should S.25 become law. A representative of the motorcycle and recreational vehicle industries and something called the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America urged that the bill exempt “protective clothing and equipment used when operating a motorcycle or off-highway vehicle” because it’s just too haaaarrrrd to make protective gear without PFAS.
(I’m old enough to remember industries insisting they couldn’t make thermometers without mercury or gasoline without lead or refrigerators without CFCs, and they always find a way when they’re forced to. So let’s force them again.)
Also, we heard from the Center for Baby and Adult Hygiene Products, which represents “the personal absorbent hygiene products industry in North America,” asking for some relatively minor changes to the bill. The fact that the Center’s ask was so modest suggests that it knew it couldn’t win a bigger fight. Also the fact that for the most part, the lobbyists submitted written testimony and didn’t bother making the trek to our podunk capital city.
I’ve got a particular thing about athletic fields, and not because I was any great shakes as an athlete. I was kind of an emergency substitute on my school’s basketball and football teams for a couple of years, and any competitive glory on my resumé came in the distinctly mellow field of co-rec softball. But there’s mounting evidence that modern synthetic turf is a hazard to athletes’ long-term health. There are chemicals in the turf itself, but equally problematic is the use of ground-up used tires as a cushioning agent. If you’ve seen any game played on such fields, you’ll notice the clouds of dark chunks, nuggets and dust produced by any contact with the surface. Like so:
Tires are not manufactured with inhalation in mind, and you just know some of that stuff is going straight into the lungs.
It’s hard to imagine how anyone thought this was a good idea, and it’ll be a blessing to athletes if the practice disappears. Artificial fields are heavily marketed to high schools as a low-maintenance alternative to real grass. It might be cheaper in the short run, but the kids pay a longer-term price.
On th Right to Repair, which has been thwarted almost wherever it’s proposed because manufacturers have created rich profit streams by restricting access to parts, manuals, tools, and forcing consumers to use only “authorized” repair shops. The idea has been repeatedly derailed in Vermont. This year, in fact, broad RTR bills have gotten nowhere in the House and Senate. But H.81, which would establish a RTR for agricultural and forestry equipment, has made it through the House Committee on Agriculture, Food Resilience and Forestry on a 9-2 vote.
A broader bill would be preferable, but this is a notable win after a series of dispiriting setbacks. Best wishes for H.81 on its way through the legislative process.
And congratulations to the lawmakers who have kept their bearings in the face of high-powered lobbying. Sometimes the lobbyists don’t win.
“Sometimes the lobbyists don’t win.”
Glad to see the legislatures standing their ground against the corporate mercenaries called lobbyists.