Coronavirus Shutdowns Causing Huge Drops in Traffic, Air Pollution
The novel coronavirus that has caused a global pandemic is also having an enormous impact on the environment, according to new satellite data. As governments around the world have restricted people from moving, industry, air travel and vehicular traffic have grinded to a halt, causing pollution levels to plummet, according to The New York Times.
"This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event," says Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, as CNN reported. "I am not surprised because many cities nationwide have taken measures to minimize the spread of the virus."
While President Trump does not enjoy watching the U.S. economy slow down and the markets lose value, the coronavirus is helping his erroneous assertion that the U.S. has the cleanest air in the world.
Areas that have been COVID-19 hotspots, like China and Italy, have already seen huge reductions in air pollution. Now the same trend is happening in major U.S. cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Chicago and Atlanta where rush hour congestion has vanished as trucks and cars are no longer choking the streets, according to The New York Times.
"Air pollution levels as observed by satellite are showing drastic improvements in many areas that have been undergoing restrictive quarantines due to COVID-19," Peter DeCarlo, an associate professor of environmental health engineering at Johns Hopkins University, told Newsweek.
"But it's [also] very clear that airline passenger numbers are way down, as many countries introduce travel bans and meetings/conferences/work-related travel is canceled. Industrial activity is also reduced, but not necessarily to the extent of traffic. For example, power plants still need to run to produce electricity, water treatment plants still need to continue to treat water, etcetera," he said.
Satellite imagery taken over the U.S. in the first three weeks of March shows less nitrogen dioxide over the country than the same period last year, according to data from the European Space Agency, as CNN reported.
Nitrogen dioxide levels are driven by burning fuels, as well as emissions of cars, trucks, buses, power plants and off-road equipment, according to CNN.
The New York Times noted that freeway traffic in Los Angeles, which is usually at a standstill during rush hour, was moving at a brisk 71 miles per hour.
"There's basically no rush hour anymore, or at least not what we would recognize as a rush hour," said Trevor Reed, a transportation analyst at INRIX, a company that analyzes traffic data from vehicle and phone navigation systems, to The New York Times.
A similar trend is happening in the Bay Area, where crossings of the heavily trafficked Bay Bridge that connects San Francisco to Oakland have dropped by 40 percent, according to the California Department of Transportation, as The New York Times reported.
In New York City, researchers from Columbia University noticed remarkable dips in carbon levels over New York City, which declined more than 50 percent below normal levels. We've never seen anything like the drop we saw starting last Friday," said Roisin Commane, an assistant professor at Columbia who conducts the air-monitoring work, referring to March 13, The New York Times reported.
"We often see dips during weekends or over holidays, but this is completely different."
The drop in pollution levels is mirrored around the world, wherever people are staying home to try to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. In China, nitrogen dioxide levels dropped 35 percent, and up to 60 percent in some cities. Similarly, reductions of up to 40 percent were seen in Milan, according to Newsweek.
Marshall Burke, an assistant professor at Stanford's Department of Earth System Science, said the improved air quality might save between 50,000 and 75,000 people from premature death, according to CNN.
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By Simon Montlake
For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.
All that was before this month's deadly wildfires in Oregon shrouded the skies above her home office in Portland. "It puts a fine point on it. These fossil fuel projects are contributing to global climate change," she says.
Moderates Feeling the Heat<p>If elected, Mr. Biden has vowed to stop new drilling for oil and gas on federal land and in federal waters and to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump gave notice of quitting. He would reinstate Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the largest component of natural gas.</p><p>The Biden climate platform also states that all federal infrastructure investments and federal permits would need to be assessed for their climate impacts. Analysts say such a test could impede future LNG plants and pipelines, though not those that already have federal approval. </p><p>Climate change activists who pushed for that language say much depends on who would have oversight of federal agencies that regulate the industry. Some are wary of Biden's reliance on advice from Obama-era officials, including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now on the board of Southern Company, a utility, and a former Obama environmental aide, Heather Zichal, who has served on the board of Cheniere Energy, an LNG exporter. </p>
The Push for U.S. Fuel Exports<p>As vice president, Biden was part of an administration that pushed hard for global climate action while also promoting U.S. oil and gas exports to its allies and trading partners. As fracking boomed, Obama ended a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. In Europe, LNG was touted both as an alternative to coal and as strategic competition with Russian pipelines.</p><p>That much, at least, continued with President Trump. Under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the agency referred to liquified U.S. hydrocarbons as "<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/us/freedom-gas-energy-department.html" target="_blank">freedom gas</a>."</p><p>Mr. Trump has also championed the interests of coal, oil, and gas while denigrating the findings of government climate scientists. He rejected the Paris accord as unfair to the U.S. and detrimental to its economy, but has offered no alternative path to emissions cuts. </p><p>Still, Trump's foreign policy has not always served the LNG industry: Tariffs on foreign steel drove up pipeline costs, and a trade war with China stayed the hand of Chinese LNG importers wary of reliance on U.S. suppliers. </p><p>Even his regulatory rollbacks could be a double-edged sword. By relaxing curbs last month on methane leaks, the U.S. has ceded ground to European regulators who are drafting emissions standards that LNG producers are watching closely. "That's a precursor of fights that will be fought in all the rest of the developed world," says Mr. Hutchison. </p><p>Indeed, some oil-and-gas exporters had urged the Trump administration not to abandon the tougher rules, since they undercut their claim to offer a cleaner-burning way of producing heat and electricity. "U.S. LNG is not going to be able to compete in a world that's focused on methane emissions and intensity," says Erin Blanton, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. </p>
Stepping on the Gas<p>In July, the Department of Energy issued an export license to Jordan Cove's developer, Canada's Pembina Pipeline Corp. In a statement, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the project would provide "reliable, affordable, and cleaner-burning natural gas to our allies around the world."</p><p>As a West Coast terminal, Jordan Cove offers a faster route to Asia where its capacity of 7.8 million tons of LNG a year could serve to heat more than 15 million homes. At its peak, its construction would also create 6,000 jobs, the company says, in a stagnant corner of Oregon.</p><p>But the project still lacks multiple local and state permits, and its biggest asset – a Pacific port – has become its biggest handicap, says Ms. Blanton. "They are putting infrastructure in a state where there's no political support for the pipeline or the terminal, unlike in Louisiana or Texas," she says. </p><p>Ms. Brown, the environmental lawyer, says she wants to see Jordan Cove buried, not just mothballed until natural gas prices recover. But she knows that it's only one among many LNG projects and that others will likely get built, even if Biden is elected in November, despite growing evidence of the harm caused by methane emissions. </p>
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