Poll shows a ‘surprise,’ broad public support for EPA carbon rule 

Source: Scott Detrow, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A new poll from the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College has encouraging news for supporters of U.S. EPA’s plan to lower the power sector’s carbon footprint by 30 percent over the next 15 years.Nearly seven in 10 respondents told pollsters they support the Clean Power Plan, which was described as a rule “designed to reduce greenhouse gases from existing power plants.” What’s more, when asked whether their states should cooperate with the federal government, delay implementation “until more is known about the plan,” or refuse to cooperate and file suit to stop it, just 9 percent of respondents said they’d support outright refusal.

Both support for the Clean Power Plan and opposition to lawsuits ran across party lines, with just 17 percent of Republican respondents telling the pollsters they would support efforts to legally block the plan.

“That was a bit of a surprise,” said Barry Rabe, director of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy’s Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the University of Michigan. “We certainly expected larger numbers of people saying to their states, ‘Don’t play this game. Fight it.'”

More than a dozen states are challenging the validity of EPA’s rule in federal court. Many of them are doing so by joining a lawsuit initially filed by Murray Energy Corp. (ClimateWire, Nov. 13, 2014). Last week, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) announced his state will soon sue as well (ClimateWire, Jan. 16).

But while the survey found broad support for the EPA rule, it uncovered mixed opinions on how states should meet their emission reduction goals.

Renewable energy scores high; carbon tax doesn’t

Seventy-nine percent of respondents voiced support for alternative and renewable energy mandates, framed as “requiring a set portion of all electricity to come from renewable energy sources such as wind and power.” An even higher portion — 84 percent — backed “requiring increased energy efficiency standards for new homes and applications.” These options both showed broad support from Republicans, Democrats and independents.

But nearly 60 percent of respondents — including majorities from all three groups — opposed a carbon tax. And support for cap-and-trade programs allowing companies to purchase and swap permits to emit greenhouse gases was split nearly down the middle, with 36 percent opposing the idea and 37 percent supporting it. More than 50 percent of both Republicans and independents said they opposed cap and trade.

While Rabe was surprised by the broad opposition to states suing to block the EPA requirements, he said this breakdown made sense. “Look at energy efficiency [requirements] and portfolio standards — these are things a majority or near-majority of states are already doing, both in blue and red regions. They’ve also been policies under some attack recently, but we haven’t seen much in terms of outright repeal.”

A handful of states have rolled back energy efficiency requirements and increased fees for solar users lately, though, and several Republican-controlled state legislatures are eyeing scaling back alternative energy portfolios (ClimateWire, Dec. 19, 2014).

The poll, from Michigan and Muhlenberg’s National Surveys on Energy and Environment, conducted 942 telephone interviews in October and November. It has a 3.5-point margin of error.