Californians take pride in the way our state sets the pace when it comes to energy efficiency, climate change and the environment. Now the State Senate is considering a small piece of legislation that represents a big threat to our leadership on energy issues, and to my members in California.
As written, AB 127 would require the State Fire Marshal to propose updated flammability standards for foam insulation used in residential and commercial construction. While that may sound benign, the actual impact of this bill could be far greater, potentially impacting California’s ability to meet our ambitious energy efficiency goals by forcing the removal of flame retardant chemicals in a long list of building products, including insulation, adhesives, sealants, vinyl siding and windows.
Set aside the fact that the use of flame retardants in building insulation and these other products saves lives and reduces fire-related injury and property damage. AB 127 could create unintended consequences when it comes to the energy efficiency, cost and reliability of buildings in California.
Foam insulation products like the one my company installs are widely used in homes, offices and public buildings because they are high-quality, cost-effective and energy efficient. If AB 127 becomes law, architects, builders and contractors like me could lose the option of using foam insulation because of ill-advised changes in fire safety standards. Without foam insulation, buildings would become less energy efficient, and would have much heavier roofs, thicker walls, and air gaps that let heat out during the winter and in during the summer.
AB 127 threatens California’s energy efficiency goals as laid out in current building codes, as well as efforts to comply with climate change requirements. It could raise overall construction costs and lower building reliability, just as the state’s building industry is emerging from more than five years of decline brought on by the Great Recession.
Moreover, AB 127 is unnecessary and redundant. It duplicates existing California law, which already gives the Department of Toxics Substances Control (DTSC)—not the State Fire Marshal—authority to restrict or prohibit the use of chemicals, including flame retardants. DTSC is expected to finalize its implementing regulations later this year. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also announced earlier this year that it would conduct chemical risk assessments on 23 commonly used chemicals, with a specific focus on flame retardants. We should let state and federal experts complete their work rather than spending money on an entirely duplicative and unnecessary effort as called for in AB 127.
California became a leader on issues such as energy efficiency and climate change by seeking science-based solutions and adopting a balanced approach to environmental issues. Unfortunately, AB 127 falls short of this mark and the Legislature should reject it.