Clean air legislation passes in California, provides standards roadmap for rest of the U.S.

The white paper, “Proposed Ventilation and Energy Efficiency Verification/Repair Program for School Reopening,” created by Theresa Pistochini, engineering manager for the University of California, Davis Energy and Efficiency Institute, and Chris Ruch, National Energy Management Institute (NEMI) director of training, was written as a guideline for schools and commercial buildings to safely open with indoor air quality in mind. Although studies used in the white paper were based on California statistics, it was meant to serve as a map for buildings hoping to safely reopen across the country.

The white paper also served as the basis for clean air legislation, which was signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Oct. 1. Assembly Bill No. 841 (AB-841), authored by California Assembly member Phil Ting, directs state energy efficiency funding to upgrade HVAC systems in public schools in underserved communities as well as those near freeways or industrial facilities.

AB-841 requires the California Energy Commission (CEC), in collaboration with each utility, to develop and administer the School Reopening Ventilation and Energy Efficiency Verification and Repair Program, which would award grants to local education agencies to reopen schools after ventilation systems are brought to current standards. Ventilation systems must be tested, adjusted, and, if necessary, repaired, upgraded or replaced to increase efficiency and performance. The legislation requires the work be performed by a Testing, Adjusting and Balancing Bureau (TABB)-certified technician to receive the grant.

Meanwhile, Joe Demark, business manager and president of Sheet Metal Workers Local 25, has been working on similar legislation in response to COVID-19. Demark has been working with Sen. Stephen M. Sweeney, president of the New Jersey Senate.

“We are not as far along as California, yet,” Demark said. “But Sen. Sweeney assures me that he is moving forward.”

Demark has been collaborating with Ruch and John Hamilton, chief operating officer of TABB, who helped him fine-tune his presentation to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and his top aides.

“Chris and John have been an incredible resource,” Demark said. “They are so knowledgeable, and their help gives me confidence that we can get this legislation passed.”

Demark said the legislation will include much of the same requirements as AB-841, and that it will be a huge win for TABB-certified New Jersey sheet metal workers.

“This is going to mean a lot of work hours for our people,” he added.

At Local 10 in Minnesota, Colin Beere, who heads up government affairs, has spent months educating contractors and local politicians on the importance of indoor air quality and ventilation verification as it relates to COVID-19 mitigation.

“We have met with local politicians and decision makers to educate them on the importance of indoor air quality and ventilation verification in our schools and public buildings,” Beere said. “We definitely have had buy-in from local contractors.”

School districts in Minneapolis and St. Paul already employ TABB-certified technicians.

“These areas are in the best position in the state to implement UV lights, bipolar ionization and address filtration systems,” said Beere. “There, we are focusing on educating school superintendents and politicians about the available new technology. In other districts, we are focusing on both the technology available and the importance of the work being performed by certified technicians to ensure the work is done properly. But all of this requires funding.”

In an effort to address the lack of funding, Sen. Tina Smith and U.S. Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester introduced Senate Bill 4060 (SB-4060): Open Back Better Act of 2020, a bill to provide additional funds to federal and state facility energy resiliency programs such as retrofit projects in schools, medical facilities, government buildings, academic institutions, libraries and more.

“Now, more than ever, it’s critical that schools, libraries, medical facilities and other public facilities provide a safe, clean, and energy efficient indoor environment,” Smith said.

“While the bill doesn’t specifically require that the work be performed by TABB-certified technicians, it could provide much needed funding for states and cities where our members can then push for those requirements locally,” Beere added.

One of the most important aspects of legislation is the requirement that a certified technician must test the system to ensure it is working properly, Ruch said.

“There are a lot of snake oil salesmen who are preying on the fears of facilities managers trying to sell them a quick fix,” he added. “Just adding on new technology like UV lights to an improperly working system won’t fix the problem. But a TABB-certified technician can make sure the system is working the way it is intended and then let them know if they need to consider putting any additional mitigation technology into place.”

ICB/TABB, a program of the National Energy Management Institute Committee (NEMIC), is the first of its kind to gain ANSI (American National Standards Institute) accreditation for certification in the testing, adjusting and balancing and HVAC fire life safety industry. The ICB/TABB program certification is a statement that the technician, supervisor and contractor demonstrate the highest level of professional expertise.

ICB/TABB is one way NEMIC identifies and develops market and educational opportunities for members of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) and SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail and Transportation Workers.

Those interested can visit the website at www.icbcertified.org or www.tabbcertified.org

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