Matsui Leads Effort to Update School HVAC Systems


WASHINGTON, D.C.  – Inspired by California’s recently enacted AB-841 legislation, which redirects funds to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) upgrades in schools and wildfire impacted communities, and seeking to address Sacramento’s high levels of smog and air pollution, Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA), along with 31 colleagues, sent a letter to the Biden Administration to support the creation of a program for HVAC system maintenance and energy efficiency upgrades in our nation’s schools.

As the country continues to suffer from the devastating impacts of COVID-19, wildfires become more severe due to the climate crisis, and school districts re-open nationwide, it will be crucial to establish dedicated funds to address new and existing issues with school HVAC units. Making these changes is vital to improving indoor air quality to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and the risk of toxic air pollution. Further, as a part of our transition to sustainable infrastructure, it will be key to ensure that our schools are equipped with the latest, energy-efficient ventilation technologies.

Congresswoman Matsui is urging for this program to prioritize environmental justice communities, communities of color, and low-wealth communities who have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic and disproportionately suffer from air pollution.

Full text of the letter is below and HERE.

President Biden:

Congratulations on your recent inauguration. We are thankful for your continued efforts to prioritize environmental protection as a part of your plan to build back better and address the needs of frontline and fenceline communities through your environmental justice plan. We write today to urge your Administration to take needed steps to improve indoor air quality and ventilation energy efficiency in our nation’s schools, with a special eye towards environmental justice and low-wealth communities which are disproportionately affected by toxic air pollution.

As our country continues to suffer from the devastating impacts of COVID-19 and more severe natural disasters due to the climate crisis, existing issues with school ventilation and air quality have been exacerbated by the pandemic. A recent Government Accountability Office study revealed that even before the ongoing health crisis, about half of the school districts in our country needed to update or replace multiple systems like heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) or plumbing. This need is even more pressing for communities of color and low wealth communities who have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic and have historically suffered from air pollution exposure at disproportionate rates. As school districts reopen nationwide, it will be essential to improve indoor air quality technology in schools to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and the risk of wildfire smoke, especially after a grueling wildfire season.

Comprehensive initiatives such as H.R. 604, Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act (RASA), provide a path forward to address crucial infrastructural needs and inequities in our nation’s schools. In addition to supporting the enactment of RASA, we urge you to support the creation of a dedicated program under the Department of Energy in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education to overhaul HVAC systems in schools, especially those in environmental justice communities. High indoor air quality and ventilation in schools is crucial for students’ health and is necessary for a quality learning environment where children can reach their full potential.  This program could be used to tackle some of these issues by providing funding for upgrades, replacements, and long-term maintenance to HVAC units, especially in schools that historically suffered from health and environmental disparities.

Additionally, as a part of the fight against climate change and our transition to a clean energy future, we urge you to prioritize clean and energy-efficient HVAC upgrades as a part of this program and include funding for schools’ energy efficiency efforts in any infrastructure proposal. Inadequate ventilation systems can significantly increase energy demand if units are not properly installed or poorly maintained and ensuring that our schools are equipped with clean ventilation technology is an important step in our commitment to advancing sustainable infrastructure. We must also ensure that upgrades meet ventilation and filtration recommendations for reopening schools set forth by the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

As your administration has wisely noted, our country currently sits at the intersection of racial justice, public health, climate, and economic crises and it is crucial to address these issues head-on to protect our nation’s youth. We look forward to working together to improve the health, environment, and energy efficiency in schools nationwide as we navigate these compounded crises during a time of turmoil but renewed hope.

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