Environmental rollbacks detrimental to pandemic recovery, according to Baker Institute blog

Rolling back environmental regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic will cause more respiratory illness, according to a blog published by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Stay-at-home orders have had a positive impact on the environment because fewer people are commuting. The decrease in air pollution has not only benefited the environment in the short term, but has also potentially saved lives, according to a recent blog post by Jordin Metz, a graduate student in Rice’s Department of Chemistry. The post is part of the Baker Institute Science and Technology Policy Program’s Developing Civic Scientist Leaders project.

Metz is available to talk with news media about these developments.

“Certain U.S. policymakers are using (the pandemic) as an opportunity to roll back environmental regulations,” Metz wrote. “For instance, the White House is weakening emissions enforcement and reducing automobile mileage standards. These rollbacks will lead to increased air pollution, which will damage Americans’ lungs and increase the risk of complications and death from COVID-19 and other future respiratory diseases.”

He added: “Air pollution is strongly linked to increased risks of asthma, respiratory illnesses and pneumonia. These are key risk factors affecting vulnerable populations for COVID-19.”

Metz proposes several ways the government can address economic and environmental needs simultaneously. For instance, companies that receive government bailouts could be required to reduce their carbon emissions and invest in green energy, which would create jobs as well.

“While addressing the spread of the COVID-19 virus and the health of our population is the utmost priority, this cannot be done at the expense of our environmental future, particularly as more pollution will exacerbate health problems in the short and long term,” he wrote.

Metz is working on a Ph.D. in chemistry. He headed the Graduate Student Association’s Sustainability Committee for two years, leading or partnering on several environmental initiatives.

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