Poll: Support for EPA Clean Air Rules Crosses Party Lines

WASHINGTON, DC, October 12, 2011 (ENS) – By a wide margin, voters of both political parties and in all regions of the United States disagree with Congress’ anti-Environmental Protection Agency agenda and support the EPA’s new rules to limit air pollution from coal-burning power plants, a new, nationwide public opinion poll shows.

Two-thirds of the respondents – 67 percent – oppose Congress delaying implementation of the air pollution rules, according to the survey of 1,400 voters conducted in the first week of September by Hart Research Associates and GS Strategy Group.

The poll gauged voters’ feelings about two EPA clean air rules – the Cross State Air Pollution Rule and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards Rule, also called Utility MACT.

The first rule will require reductions in emissions from coal-fired power plants that drift hundreds of miles downwind and across state lines.

The Clover coal-fired power plant is located on the Staunton River in Halifax County, Virginia. (Photo courtesy Dominion Virginia Power)

The second rule will require power plants to curb toxic emissions of mercury, lead, arsenic and acid gases by 2015. Many of the power plants impacted by these rules are more than 50 years old.

The poll found that support for these air pollution rules extends across the political spectrum.

By three to one (75%) the public believes that the EPA, not Congress, should determine whether stricter limits are needed on air pollution from electric power plants.

This is a view supported by members of all parties, with 85% of Democrats, 62% of Republicans, and 79% of Independents in agreement.

The poll was sponsored by Ceres, a Boston-based coalition of investors, environmental groups and public interest organizations working with companies to address sustainability challenges such as global climate change.

“American voters, both Democrats and Republicans, are unified in backing prompt EPA action on the clean air rules,” said Ceres president Mindy Lubber. “Regardless of affiliation, voters want a healthy environment and an end to foot-dragging to upgrade dirty power plants.”

Lubber said, “Despite the rhetoric in Washington, clean air is not a partisan issue among Americans, and Congress would do well to take notice.”

Greg Strimple of GS Strategy Group, a Republican pollster who jointly conducted the research, said, “Although some in Congress oppose these rules, the level of support from Republican voters is surprisingly strong.”

“The research clearly demonstrates Republican voters are willing to support new rules to reduce harmful emissions in order to improve public health,” said Strimple. “Republicans like clean air, too.”

Geoff Garin, president of Hart Research Associates, which jointly conducted the poll, observed, “Despite the vitriol coming from Capitol Hill, the research shows that not only do voters see that it is an important issue, the undeniable consensus is that they support these rules. The fear of not having clean air is a clear-cut issue according to the voting public.”

“And, not only do voters overwhelmingly support the EPA’s clean air rules,” said Garin, “they firmly believe EPA should be allowed to do its job without interference from Congress.”

Among the poll’s key findings:

  • 88% of Democrats, 85% of Independents, and 58% of Republicans polled oppose Congress stopping the EPA from enacting new limits on air pollution from power plants.
  • 67% of voters polled support the Cross State Air Pollution Rule and 77% of voters support the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards Rule.
  • 65% of voters surveyed are confident that the health and environmental benefits of air pollution standards outweigh the costs of complying with them.
  • 79% of voters surveyed agree that the rules are important to enact for health reasons.
  • 75% of voters polled believe a compelling reason to implement these rules is the boost to local economies and thousands of new jobs that will be created from investments in new technology.

Strimple said, “This issue unites Democrats and divides Republicans, so these are not the kinds of issues that Rs should be taking up to advance their position in Congress.”

The Zimmer power plant in Ohio is the largest single-unit fossil-fueled generating unit ever built. (Photo courtesy Power)

Across the country, voters support Cross State Air Pollution Rule, with 71% of voters from the Northeast, 66% of voters in the South, 62% of voters in the Midwest, and 71% of voters from the West in favor.

Similarly, support for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards Rule is high nationwide: 80% of voters in the Northeast, 75% of voters in the South, 72% of voters in the Midwest, and 83% of voters in the West in support.

Voters polled see threats to water and health as the most important reasons for enacting new EPA air pollution rules. In fact, 80% of those surveyed feel it is important to enact new rules because coal-burning power plants contribute to water pollution via deposition of airborne pollutants that eventually settle in our water bodies.

By a wide margin of 79%, respondents agree that the rules are important for health reasons, as power plant pollution is responsible for more than 24,000 premature deaths, 38,000 non-fatal heart attacks, and more than 550,000 asthma attacks each year.

These two rules will save lives and, according to research sponsored by Ceres on the economic impact of the rules, create 1.4 million new jobs over the next five years through investments in pollution controls, new plant construction, and retirement of older, less efficient power plants as the country transitions to a cleaner, modernized generation fleet.

Seventy-five percent of those surveyed believe job creation from these rules is an important reason to enact them.

Strimple said Republican lawmakers need to rethink their position on these clean air rules. “All of the EPA rules are getting put together in one big bunch. Republicans, in their zeal to limit the role of government, are showing an inability to separate the good from the bad. What Ceres is trying to do here,” he said, “is show that some of this stuff is good, you need to start paying attention to what the voters want.”

Dan Bakal, director of Ceres’ Electric Power Program, said, “Voters across all demographics support the EPA.”

Many utilities are ready for the rules to take effect, Bakal said. “Many have already made investments to clean up their emissions and they want to see these investments acknowledged by these rules. For instance, Duke Energy describes the rules as ‘a driver of fleet modernization.'”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.