Public support for state-level climate policy has declined since 2008 — report

Source: Henry Gass and Christa Marshall, E&E reporters • Posted: Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Public enthusiasm for state-level climate change policies has waned in recent years as rhetoric denying the role of humans in warming the planet has intensified and the federal government has taken the lead in tackling greenhouse gas emissions.
The peak in public support for state climate policies came in the fall of 2008, according to a report released yesterday from the National Surveys on Energy and Environment, but has steadily declined ever since as respondents became more circumspect over how states should pursue climate policy. Most Americans still think states should have an active role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but support for strong policy responses has declined.The¬†report¬†summarizes data from 11 surveys taken between fall 2008 and fall 2013. The surveys gathered responses from, on average, 843 people and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.The researchers found that in fall 2008, 70 percent of respondents believed it was their state’s job to address global warming if the federal government fails to do so, with 41 percent of respondents agreeing strongly with this proposition. In fall 2013, exactly one-half of respondents believed that was the responsibility of their state, with 19 percent strongly believing it.

In terms of specific policies, support for increasing state gasoline taxes and developing state cap-and-trade systems both declined significantly, while support for state renewable energy standards weakened but remained reasonably popular.

Cap and trade may regain favor

By fall 2008, laws requiring a portion of electricity to come from renewable sources had been enacted by 29 states, but since then, no other states have enacted similar policies. At the same time, the NSEE report found that a large majority of respondents support a renewable energy standard, but strong support for renewable energy standards dropped from 59 percent in 2008 to 46 percent in 2013.

In 2008, there were also regional cap-and-trade programs for carbon emissions in 23 states, but that number has now declined to 10: California and the nine Northeastern states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. According to the NSEE report, support for having a state cap-and-trade system dropped from 55 percent in 2008 to 32 percent in 2013.

The authors note in the report, however, that cap-and-trade systems may become more popular in the near future as the federal government seeks to curb carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s power plants. “A few states have begun to more actively consider a return to cap-and-trade,” they write, “and emerging federal policy in regulating electricity sector emissions may provide incentives for adopting such policies.”

Barry Rabe, a public policy professor at the University of Michigan and co-author of the report, added in an email that “the drivers here include the decline of the economy and the decline in public belief in the existence of climate change.”

The report concludes that the federal government is now the driving force in American climate policy, as a lack of public support has led state governments to shy away from aggressive policies.

“The states now appear to be in a holding pattern as activity in Washington edges forward,” write the authors in the report.