NOAA to Study COVID-19 Impacts on Environment

May 8, 2020.          Press Release

Contact: Jeff Tittel, NJ Sierra Club, 609-558-9100

This week, the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) announced that it will begin to study the effects that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the environment. Scientists at NOAA will look for changes in atmospheric composition, weather, climate, and precipitation. They will also examine the effects of short-term reductions in pollution and of decreased underwater noise levels on marine life.

“NOAA is going to study the health crisis and how it is impacting the environment. This agency has been a key source of independent science versus the political science that comes from the Trump Administration. They have been able to do important work when it comes to dealing with climate change, mapping sea-level rise, and looking at air pollution. That is why it is critical that they will look at the impacts, both positive and negative, of the coronavirus pandemic on the environment, and climate in particular,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Studying how these reductions may benefit the environment will help provide a scientific basis for environmental policy going forward.”

Data was released this week from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, showing that renewable energy sources have generated more electricity than coal since March 25. The previous record was set in April of last year, with renewable energy topping coal for 9 consecutive days. The decline in coal this year is partially due to less demand for electricity during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have seen that the coronavirus outbreak has dramatically impacted the environment already. Pollution is down 30% since mid-March, and greenhouse gas emissions are projected to decline by 8% by the end of the year. A recent report found that solar and other renewable energy has been used in this country more than coal for more than 40 days. This will help people with asthma and respiratory problems. It is even more essential because a recent Harvard study found a link between coronavirus risk and exposure to air pollution,” said Tittel. “Reducing air pollution will reduce health costs and sick days for the residents of New Jersey. Investing in renewable energy will also help create jobs and protect our environment.”

Last week, a report from the International Energy Agency found that global emissions were 5% lower in the first quarter of 2020 than in 2019. The report found that emissions in the U.S. declined by 9% during that period. According to the projections, oil demand could drop 9% and coal demand 8% by the end of the year. Imagery from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) showed a 30% drop in pollution in the Northeastern U.S. last month.

“We are facing the health crisis now, but we are also dealing with the longer-term threat of climate change. Study after study have shown that New Jersey is one of the most vulnerable states in the country. Parts of the state are going underwater where we are seeing tremendous impacts of sea-level rise and chronic flooding. The emissions reductions we’ve seen over the past month could be the future if we keep moving toward renewable energy and energy efficiency,” said Jeff Tittel. “We cannot let our emissions and pollution rise again once the health emergency is over.”

Recent research has linked coronavirus risk to air pollution exposure. A nationwide Harvard study found that coronavirus patients in areas that had high levels of air pollution before the pandemic are more likely to die from the infection than patients in cleaner parts of the country.

“NOAA is making sure there is scientific data documenting the benefits of the pollution reductions we are seeing. This will help provide scientific backing for clean energy policies and legislation. This is vital because we need to take extreme actions to plan for climate change and sea-level rise at both the state and national levels. We need to move toward 100% renewable and zero-carbon by 2050,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “For the health of the planet, the public, and our economy, our nation must continue to transition to a clean energy future. We must make sure we continue reductions after the health emergency is over.”