Far More Americans Trust EPA Over Congress To Set Pollution Standards


House Republicans sometimes describe the Environmental Protection Agency as a kind of rogue outfit; a threat to the American economy that hides its methods and needs to be “reined in.” But according to a new survey by the American Lung Association, far more Americans trust the agency over Congress to deal with pollution.

The poll was conducted in November and covered 1,000 respondents, and had a margin of error of 3.1 percent. Among other questions, it specifically asked voters whether “scientists at the EPA should set pollution standards” or if “our elected representatives in Congress should set pollution standards, not unelected bureaucrats at the EPA.” Forty-six percent agreed with the first statement “much” and another 22 percent agreed with it “somewhat,” for a total of 68 percent support (69 percent by the pollster’s calculations, when rounding is presumably factored in). Furthermore, even among Republicans, EPA scored more trust than Congress, with 60 percent saying the agency should set the standards versus 31 percent saying the legislature should do it.

Overall, EPA also scored a 42 percent favorability rating with the poll’s respondents, versus a 31 percent viewing it unfavorably, and a mere 16 percent of respondents viewing Congress favorably. In this case, however, the partisan divide was much more acute, with the weight of approval of the agency to be found among Democrats, while Independents split almost evenly and Republicans being much more leery of the agency.

Oil companies garnered just a 23 percent favorability rating overall.

Another interesting finding involved methane specifically, an emission that’s risen to prominence with the natural gas boom. Methane is the primary component in natural gas, it’s an extremely potent greenhouse gas, and research suggests leaks and emissions of it from the natural gas industry are so bad they may completely undo any advantage the fossil fuel has over coal in combating climate change.

Respondents were asked if they supported a new EPA proposal to cut methane emissions from the production and transportation portions of the natural gas industry by 50 percent by 2020. Sixty-three percent of respondents either “strongly favored” or “somewhat favored” the move, and that total increased to 66 percent after the people polled were read a series of statements laying the positions of those on both sides of the debate.

The poll also dug into voters’ priorities broadly speaking, asking them which they thought was the most important: “getting the economy moving and creating jobs,” “protecting the quality of the air we breath,” or “reducing regulations on businesses.” Not surprisingly, the first choice brought in the most enthusiasm, with 93 percent of the respondents listing it as “extremely” or “very” important. But air quality was not very far behind, with 80 percent of those polled describing it as extremely/very important. By contrast, reducing regulations on business was an extremely/very important priority for only 41 percent, while 35 percent described the goal as “somewhat important” and 20 percent dismissed it as “not at all important.”

These sorts of responses are hardly unusual. At this point, a long string of polls have found that Americans support EPA efforts to cut carbon emissions from power plants by two-thirds, for example, and that this support remains strong even if the policy could result in higher electricity prices.