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A chemical company that donated to Ron DeSantis now wants the state to help sell its product
Bills meant to get more Floridians buying spray-foam insulation for their homes come from lobbyists for a multibillion-dollar manufacturer of spray-foam insulation.
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In a pair of hearings held about three hours apart on Wednesday, committees in the Florida House and Senate passed a couple of arcane bills dealing with “wind uplift prevention.”
But while the subject of those bills may be bland, the backstory is not: Records show they come from a multibillion-dollar chemical company that has become a big donor to Gov. Ron DeSantis and has hired a pair of former top DeSantis aides to lobby the legislation through the Florida Capitol.
The bills (House Bill 799 and Senate Bill 594) would make property insurance companies give discounts to homeowners if they make upgrades to their homes that protect against wind uplift — a type of upward pressure that can rip the roof off a house during a hurricane.
The bills were originally written, according to emails obtained through a public-records request, by representatives for Huntsman Corp., an $8 billion-a-year chemical manufacturer that makes a type of spray-foam insulation that the company markets as protection against wind uplift.
Based in Texas, Huntsman Corp. was founded by Jon Huntsman — whose sons included Jon Huntsman Jr., the former Republican governor of Utah and ambassador to Russia under President Donald Trump who once served as Huntsman Corp.’s CEO.
Campaign-finance records show the company and two family members — including current Huntsman Corp. CEO Peter Huntsman, Jon Jr.’s brother — gave a combined $27,000 to DeSantis in September.
Huntsman Corp. recently hired Ballard Partners, a lobbying firm run by one of DeSantis’ top fundraisers. The specific lobbyists working on the company’s behalf include Adrian Lukis, a former chief of staff to DeSantis, and Dane Eagle, the governor’s former economic-development director who joined the firm in January, just days after leaving the DeSantis administration.
Representatives for Huntsman did not respond to requests for comment. But in talking points provided to lawmakers, the company is pitching its spray foam as an affordable way to strengthen roofs against strong winds.
“Many structural retrofits (hurricane strapping, increased fastening, etc.) are not possible without major renovation,” the company’s talking points read. “However, spray polyurethane foam (SPF) can be added with minimal impact to the homeowner.”
The lawmakers sponsoring Huntsman’s legislation — Sen. Jonathan Martin (R-Fort Myers) and Rep. Griff Griffitts (R-Panama City Beach) — have repeated the company’s talking points verbatim when presenting the bills during public hearings.
Now, none of this necessarily means that these are bad bills.
In fact, giving insurance discounts to homeowners who harden their homes against hurricanes is a far more consumer-friendly change than most of the other recent insurance “reforms” that DeSantis and the Legislature have passed — which have largely boiled down to making it much harder for a homeowner to sue an insurance company that is slow to pay a claim while also driving up the cost of alternative insurance through the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. (This assumes, of course, that the upgrades really do provide meaningful protection against storms.)
A prominent consumer group — AARP — has even testified in favor of Huntsman’s wind uplift legislation.
But it’s also another example of how “The Process” tends to work in Tallahassee.
And it’s potentially a big help to Huntsman at a challenging time for the company.
Huntsman has invested a lot in the spray-foam insulation business, which the company sees as a growth industry because of rising demand for products that make buildings more energy efficient — and thus reduce demand for climate-heating fossil fuels. The company has spent roughly $700 million since 2018 to buy a pair of smaller spray-foam manufacturers.
But the business, rebranded as “Huntsman Building Solutions,” has been hit hard recently, as rising interest rates have cooled the residential construction market. Huntsman told investors that spray-foam sales tumbled 22 percent during the third quarter of last year and were flat in the fourth.
Company executives have also warned that this year could be tough, too.
“Our Huntsman Building Solutions spray foam business ended the year with $600 million of annual sales,” company Chairman and CEO Peter Huntsman told Wall Street analysts last month. “While the housing market may endure a more difficult year than 2022 due to higher interest rates, we remain on the right side of [the] energy efficiency drive, and we will benefit from both improved building codes and the government's Inflation Reduction Act.”
Persuading Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature to pass a law that stimulates new demand for Huntsman’s spray foam could help soften the slump.