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Coronavirus Is Actually Helping the Environment — for Now

With factories shut down and millions of people not driving, due to coronavirus lockdowns, the air’s clearer in some of the world’s major cities. But the pollution reductions may be very short-term, as governments move to boost their devastated economies.

In China’s Hubei province, where nitrogen dioxide levels fell by 40% during the strict regional lockdown, businesses are starting to open back up and people are driving again. That means more pollution. And China’s plans to reignite the economy could make it even worse than before: A report from the NGO Global Energy Monitor found that China green-lighted plans for more coal-fired power capacity last month than in all of 2019.

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In the U.S., the EPA just suspended requirements for companies to comply with a bunch of environmental laws if they cite the pandemic, and the administration rolled back Obama-era emissions standards, gutting the federal government’s most important climate change policy. And the congressional bailout deal inked last week helps the fuel-inefficient airlines while shunning the fast-growing solar and wind businesses.

“We’re at near-record levels of wind farms under construction,” says Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, “so the COVID-19 disruption is coming at a horrendous moment.”

VICE News spoke to Kiernan about what this means for the future of renewable energy, and for our climate.

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