Even Republicans Favor EPA Clean Air Rules that Republicans are Trying to Block

by David Roberts, in a Grist cross-post

The debate over upcoming EPA regulations is a perfect microcosm of contemporary U.S. politics, in all its unreality and venality. Two rules in particular are in the hot seat at the moment, both of which would crack down on pollution from power plants (yes, I’m about to serve up some alphabet soup, but it’ll be delicious): the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), which would address smog and particulate pollution across state lines (it’s also known as the Clean Air Transport Rule, or CATR), and Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MACT), which would address, as one might expect, mercury and toxic emissions.

Ceres EPA poll

Two things have been fairly well established about these rules: Their benefits far exceed their costs and they are enduringly popular with the American people. Yet inside the Beltway bubble, it’s perfectly legitimate to argue that they would cripple the $14 trillion U.S. economy or, incredibly, that preventing them amounts to a jobs bill.

Nonetheless, the public gets it. The latest evidence comes from a nationwide poll conducted by Hart Research and GS Strategy Group, sponsored by Ceres. It found — like so many polls before it — that the public overwhelmingly supports clean air protections across demographic and party lines.

Some of the more striking results:

  • Overall, voters favor air pollution protections by 60 percent to 22 percent (with 18 percent neutral). Specifically, they favor CSAPR by 67 to 16 and MACT 77 to 9.
  • Here’s one that isn’t a surprise given Congress’ approval rating: Fully 75 percent of voters (even 62 percent of Republicans) think EPA, not Congress, should decide on air pollution rules.
  • Fifty-four percent believe that public health should be the primary consideration in supporting new rules (just 13 percent think cost should matter most), and 82 percent believe that EPA rules will improve public health.
  • Majorities are against delaying (67) or blocking (76) the rules.
  • Republicans favor both rules too: CSAPR by 48 to 30 and MACT 63 to 20.
  • Young voters (18-34, which I guess means I’m officially old) favor air protections by a whopping 77 percent.
  • After being presented arguments from both sides, majority support for the rules remains robust — by 67 to 33 percent, voters think the rules’ supporters have better arguments.

Perhaps most interesting to me personally is the issue of how the public views the impact of these regulations on the cost of electricity. It is the one area where they believe EPA regs will have a negative impact:

Ceres EPA poll

The pollsters compared the impact of two common counter-arguments to price concerns. One focused on the public health benefits. The other addressed the concerns more directly by arguing that electricity prices in fact wouldn’t go up — they’d be held down by cheap natural gas, more than compensating for the cost of the rules. The latter argument was more compelling, particularly to Independents, who favored it by 20 percentage points. So maybe the conventional wisdom among the rules’ supporters that they should focus on public health is wrong, or at least incomplete. Perhaps it’s also wise to deal openly with the public’s main reservation: electricity prices.

Anyway, the fact that there’s a winnable political case to be made for EPA regulations won’t change the behavior of those in Congress who don’t want to make it. They tend to the interests of utilities and industries in their states. But EPA’s congressional defenders should take heart and so should the president. On a national level, this as popular as public policy gets.
— David Roberts is a staff writer for Grist. You can follow his Twitter feed at
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7 Responses to Even Republicans Favor EPA Clean Air Rules that Republicans are Trying to Block

  1. David Smith says:

    This demonstrates that our elected officials are not representing our (all voters) interests; a gross systems falure. Can they be recalled? Before the revolution we had this problem with the British crown.

  2. Michael Tucker says:

    Republicans in congress get their campaign money from corporations not the public. They do not give two s#%ts what the public wants. It is all about what Republicans think corporate America wants.

  3. Sad to say that Republican voters are among the most insulated groups in American politics. When you present them with issues, they’re rational. But when you present them with candidates, they vote for the people who don’t represent their views. If we could just get votes based on the tax and environmental issues alone there would be very few republicans/conservatives left in the political system.

  4. CW says:

    I’d link this back to the “perfect information would help” post a few days ago. We’re getting bad information, especially Republicans reading and watching only their sources, yet most of us still want the same solutions.

    At the moment I’m thinking the better explanation for this is the ridiculous electoral system that gives people only two options. Two package deals. You can’t take some of one and some of the other. There are not multiple parties, offering you different packages or gradations of what you might want. So many Republicans would like to see more renewable energy and other actions to get us off oil, but they care about other conservative issues a bit more and are really against some actions Dems might take. So what do they do? They are forced to vote for folk who won’t do a thing to get us off oil or onto the quick path to renewables.

    Obviously the system allows for more than two parties, but there are huge difficulties in getting them in there, not the least of which are financing barriers and the huge risk of splitting the right or left. Surmount those (preferential voting like Australia perhaps) and maybe the system as a whole will better reflect American values and desires.

  5. sue jones says:

    Everyone is always so quick to blame “corporate america.” I happen to work for a Fortune 100 energy company and we are 100% in favor of the EPA clean air regulations and join a long long list of other major corporations that support them as well.

  6. David B. Benson says:

    Replacing coal burners by NPPs will add about 3–3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour to your electric bill.

  7. Lionel A says:

    And then there is the water quality issue as pointed out by a brief article in October 2011 issue of Scientific American, page 10 but with nary a mention of fracking, oil pipeline leaks and coal plant toxins leaching being dumped into waterways like here:

    EXPOSED: Koch Industries and Cancer Risk

    CW with respect to, ‘…We’re getting bad information, especially Republicans reading and watching only their sources.’

    Indeed, and I recall my misgivings when from at least fifteen years ago, when the WWW was still an unknown for most, some media outlets offered the ability to tailor ones news subject matter to only those topics of immediate interest to oneself. I could see how this could further help distort the world-view of many by ensuring blinkered points of view. No room for serendipity in those who only want to accept black and white.