One of the new Texas laws stems from Senate Bill 1210, from the 2021 session of the Legislature, authored by Sen. Nathan Johnson, a Dallas Democrat, and Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Harris County Republican. The law permits building codes to allow the use of refrigerants for air conditioning that aren’t hydrofluorocarbons, which are being phased out nationwide in part due to their harmful impact on the ozone layer, as long as the replacements meet the standards set forth by the Clean Air Act.
Building codes, refrigerants and air conditioning don't make for the most exciting reading material, at least for the average voter. And to be sure, on the surface, SB 1210 doesn't read as the sexiest law, nor does it command headlines the way many bills dealing with the hot-button issues of the day might. But just below the surface of the young law lies quite a bit that is certainly worthy of not only attention, but maybe some hope for a more bipartisan future.
But first, why was this bill necessary? For those who have had to deal with air conditioner repair or replacement in the past couple of years, the topic of a new-school refrigerant versus the old one has certainly come up, and that’s where this new law begins to affect the average citizen.
“There’s been a change in technology when it comes to air conditioning and refrigerant products,” Johnson said over the phone after a series of meetings in Austin. “We had an old product that was very bad for the environment, and the building codes posed an obstacle to implementing some of the new technologies that are better for the environment.”
The positive environmental impact is just the start of the benefits the new law will have, Johnson said. A modernization of the building codes means a better chance for commercial growth.
“The other thing this does is that it provides certainty for businesses that are going to bring this new technology online,” he said. “If a business isn't sure they’ll be able to scale up production in a certain city, they’re not going to hire people, they’re not going to invest in the product. This provides a market certainty that also brings a change that’s beneficial to us on an environmental level.”
The market certainties and the production Johnson speaks of are where this new law begins to show itself as more than the simple updating of a code or even as a Democrat’s push to get more green-friendly laws on the books. This is Texas, after all. Environmentally friendly legislation isn’t exactly a popular item on the House floor or in the governor’s office.
“We had an old product that was very bad for the environment, and the building codes posed an obstacle to implementing some of the new technologies that are better for the environment.” - Texas Sen. Nathan Johnson
Johnson suggested that because there are private companies that stand to profit from the new law while it also helps the environment, this is one of the moments where multiple interests that might sometimes be at odds with one another come together in a happy middle ground. “It works out well,” he said.
The senator knows that Texas hasn’t passed many clean air bills in the past several years, so he sees this new law as a “moral victory,” he said. It shows the state is trending in a positive direction. He thinks it offers some evidence that sustainable environmental policy and commerce aren’t mutually exclusive. Most importantly, perhaps, the new law is a positive step across the aisle for both Democrats and Republicans at a time when that seems more difficult than ever.
“When you can get so many different constituencies in alignment,” Johnson said, “not only do you not have any opposition, but you see that people actually like to have the opportunity to work together sometimes, which in a combative, partisan environment, it’s really refreshing to find something that everybody can support, and this is one of those things.”