Commentary: Flame retardants bill facts need to be explained

In a recent Commentary (“Putting special interest over Delaware families,” July 15) Rep. John Kowalko accused members of the General Assembly of putting special interests over Delaware families. While I do not want to get into a back-and-forth airing of grievances, Delaware residents deserve to know the facts, many of which Rep. Kowalko omitted in his piece, which have given people a false picture of what happened.

The issue at hand is House Bill 117 and its substitute versions. Flame retardant chemicals are used in a wide variety of products. They are required by the federal government to be in these products in an effort to promote safety.

Flame retardants can be found in mattresses, furniture, car seats, upholstery, every electronic device, even clothing. While these products can still catch on fire, the chemicals slow the rate of burn and or deter a fire due to excessive heat in electronics.

Unfortunately, while they are used to keep us safe, when burned, these chemicals can become toxic. At this time, the federal government has not taken steps to ban the chemicals used in flame retardant products. California, however, has passed legislation to ban certain chemicals, which I think is an important and prudent step.

Rep. Quinn Johnson

However, Rep. Kowalko’s bill would have surpassed California’s restrictions and would have made Delaware the most restrictive state in the country.

The problem with this is that California has 39 million residents. Delaware has fewer than 1 million. Companies have adapted to the California standard because California’s market share is so large. If California were a country, it would have the world’s fifth largest GDP.

It is unrealistic to believe that companies would manufacture products specific to Delaware, which has such a small market share. It just would not be practical from a business standpoint.

As a result, Delawareans would find many products no longer available in Delaware. Beyond that, Amazon and Walmart, who employ thousands of Delawareans, would not be able to distribute these products from their Delaware distribution centers under this proposal. Jobs would have been lost and Delawareans would be going to our surrounding states to purchase the products, where they would still be available. How is that good for our state?

Members of two different House committees have recognized these major concerns and have asked Rep. Kowalko to amend his bill to adopt the California standard. This would give Delaware one of the most stringent, progressive environmental laws in the country regarding flame retardants and make real, meaningful improvements to our health, safety and quality of life. He has repeatedly refused.

Unlike many parts of the country, politics in Delaware is still about ideas, discussion and compromise. We have to look for ways to reach consensus for the good of the people we serve. Sometimes, that means not getting 100% of what we want, and it might be for a very good reason.

Special interest groups had nothing to do with the failure of Rep. Kowalko’s proposal — only his unwillingness to accept suggestions from colleagues who identified issues and were actually trying to help him create a piece of legislation that could pass.

Quinn Johnson, a Democrat, represents the 8th Representative District in the Delaware House of Representatives, which includes Middletown, Summit and surrounding areas.

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