Voters in states suing EPA support Clean Power Plan rule — poll

Source: Hannah Hess, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Two weeks ahead of oral arguments on legal challenges to the Clean Power Plan, backers of U.S. EPA’s rule are touting support from voters in states suing to halt its implementation.

survey found that 67 percent of registered voters in the 24 states challenging the rule said they favored the program for cutting carbon emissions, pollsters said during an event at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., this morning.

Researchers with the University of Maryland School of Public Policy’s Program for Public Consultation reached out to several thousand people around the country and in certain states between April 16 and June 10. The group Voice of the People backed the effort (E&E Daily, April 15, 2015).

The data showed a partisan divide. Fourty-seven percent of Republican respondents favored the rule nationally. A slight majority of 52 percent opposed the plan. Among Democrats, 89 percent were in favor, as were 64 percent of independents.

The data showed that even among voters who work in the coal industry or have family members who do, 62 percent expressed support for the plan. The rule would have a particularly negative effect on coal power generation.

“Clearly the forces driving this lawsuit are not arising from public resistance to the Clean Power Plan,” said Steven Kull, director of the Program for Public Consultation.

The in-depth national survey, which guided respondents through an online policymaking simulation, presented key arguments on both sides of the issue.

Arguments in favor of the Clean Power Plan focused on the importance of improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gases. Pollsters acknowledged a minor increase in the cost of electricity.

“These costs are minor compared to the effect of air pollution on people’s health and the likely costs of rising sea levels, lost farmland, and more violent storms,” they wrote. “Furthermore, this is a good investment because in the long run, more efficient methods and technologies will save us money.”

In opposition to the Clean Power Plan, pollsters focused on the impact increased power costs would have on low-income people.

“And all these promises about the costs coming down in the future are just that — promises,” they wrote. “It is really risky to assume these new methods and technologies are going to save money and, even if they do, whether the utility companies are going to really pass those savings on to consumers.”

Republican and Democratic congressional staffers vetted the material, in addition to experts from EPA, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the World Resources Institute and the School of Public Policy.

After considering the statements, support for the plan increased to a bipartisan majority — rising to 61 percent among Republicans, 94 percent among Democrats and 78 percent overall — if the federal government were to make efforts to mitigate the effect on coal workers.

“People really care about the trade-offs involved in the policy design,” said Adele Morris, policy director of Brookings’ climate and energy economics project, who has advised Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on coal miner issues.

Morris said emphasizing the environmental benefits of the plan “can go a long way towards making people feel the investment is worth it.”

Policy alternatives

The survey suggested two policy routes: providing support for coal industry workers who lose their jobs or helping industry sequester carbon emissions from coal power production. Helping workers was far more popular.

The Obama administration has proposed strategies for helping troubled coal mining communities. It has also backed research into technology to make coal cleaner. But critics say the investments from the White House and Congress have not been enough.

Like a similar survey released this spring, the new results showed bipartisan majority support for a variety of specific measures to reduce carbon dioxide beyond the Clean Power Plan (Greenwire, May 4).

Between 73 and 78 percent of respondents backed tax credits for fuel-efficient lighting, doors, windows and insulation. They also supported building more energy-efficient homes and installing wind and fuel-cell technology. Among Republicans, 62 to 69 percent of respondents favored those strategies.

Bipartisan majorities favored requiring higher fuel efficiency standards for light cars, trucks and heavy-duty vehicles and requiring electric companies to have a minimum portion of their electricity come from renewable sources. Republican support for those strategies ranged from 56 percent to 57 percent. Among Democrats it was 84 to 89 percent.

The survey also found that 71 percent of registered voters approved of the Obama administration’s involvement in the Paris climate agreement.

Among Republicans, a slim majority, 52 percent, approved, and 61 percent said the agreement was at least tolerable. Democrats and independents expressed strong backing for the Paris deal, 89 percent and 66 percent, respectively.

Concern about the effects of air pollution on public health appears to be driving support for reducing carbon emissions to an equal or greater extent than worries about climate change.

Click here to see the questionnaire with results.