New poll: Americans want EPA action on climate

Our guest blogger is CAP’s Daniel J. Weiss.

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) wants to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from undertaking any efforts to reduce global warming pollution from stationary sources or additional reductions from vehicles for two years. This would actually be a four year delay in pollution reductions because it takes two years for EPA to propose and finalize reduction standards. This misguided bill puts public health in jeopardy, a risk we simply can’t afford.

Senator Rockefeller’s Stationary Source Regulations Delay Act, S. 3072, or “dirty air bill,” is solidly opposed by the public, according to a brand new poll for the NRDC Action Fund by the Benenson Strategy Group. It polled 1,401 likely 2010 voters from August 10–15 and found:

When asked whether “the government should regulate greenhouse gases from sources like power plants and refineries in an effort to reduce global warming,” 60% support it and just 34% oppose it.

54% [of voters] say they are confident in the EPA when it comes to regulation greenhouse gases and just 42% are not confident.

When asked about a bill “would suspend the EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gases for two years,”:

  • Just 37% support it, while 53% oppose it.
  • Opposition exists across the political spectrum. Among independents, 54% oppose it, while just 35% support it. Even Republicans are evenly split, with 45% supporting and 43% opposing it.

During the midst of the worse economy in 80 years, Senator Rockeller’s dirty air bill is still opposed by Democrats, Independents, and Republicans alike. Senators who vote for it risk diminishing the enthusiasm of their base and losing the support of independents.


Senator Rockefeller has shifting reasons for his efforts to block the EPA from setting standards to reduce greenhouse gas pollution from coal fired power plants and other very large industrial sources. On July 23, he said that

I am continuing to push hard for my bill to suspend EPA action for two years, so that Congress, not federal regulators, can set national energy policy.

I have been arguing for months that more work and new solutions are needed for tackling climate change — the cap and trade proposals introduced in the last year don’t work for West Virginia

However, a scant three weeks later, the New York Times reported that Senator Rockefeller was opposing pollution reduction efforts because they were too costly.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) plans to seek a vote this year on his bill that would delay EPA climate rules for stationary sources for two years. He and other lawmakers argue that EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations could cripple the economy.

Of course, independent reports by the Environmental Protection Agency and Congressional Budget Office found that there is no factual basis for this concern according to their nonpartisan analyses. The draft American Power Act, sponsored by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) would reduce global warming pollution from large stationary sources and motor fuels while investing in clean energy technologies. EPA found that such a broad approach would have little impact on the economy.

The APA still has a relatively modest impact on U.S. consumers, assuming the bulk of revenues from the program are returned to households lump-sum.

Average household consumption is reduced, relative to the no-policy case, by 0.0–0.1% in 2015, by between 0.0–0.2% in 2020, by 0.2–0.5% in 2030, and by 0.9–1.1% in 2050.

Despite the expected decrease in consumption over the no-policy case, average household consumption is still expected to rise over the period of analysis: the average consumption growth rate from 2010–2030 under the core scenario is expected to be between 2.5% and 2.8%.

In other words, household consumption would be two cents for every $10 of consumption. And this projection does not include costs from doing nothing — as would occur under the Rockefeller bill. Global warming pollution would continue unabated, with the types of costly impacts we see in Pakistan, Russia, and elsewhere this summer.

The APA cost estimates do not account for the benefits of avoiding the effects of climate change (or, stated from a different perspective, the no-policy scenario does not include estimates of the costs of climate change induced damages)

The CBO found that the APA would actually reduce the federal budget deficit.

CBO and JCT [Congressional Join Tax Committee] estimate that enacting the legislation would reduce future deficits by about $19 billion over the 2011–2020 period.

So Senator Rockefeller’s dirty air bill is opposed by the public, while action on global warming would not harm the economy but would reduce the federal budget deficit.


Perhaps he wants to block reductions in global warming pollution to protect West Virginia’s coal industry. Yet the late Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), the longest serving senator in U.S. history, spent the last months of his life devising solutions to global warming that would enable West Virginia to continue coal production. Even without the benefit of this Benenson poll, Senator Byrd understood that the public wants clean air and a reduction in pollution.

The truth is that some form of climate legislation will likely become public policy because most American voters want a healthier environment.

The future of coal and indeed of our total energy picture lies in change and innovation. In fact, the future of American industrial power and our economic ability to compete globally depends on our ability to advance energy technology.

The greatest threats to the future of coal do not come from possible constraints on mountaintop removal mining or other environmental regulations, but rather from rigid mindsets, depleting coal reserves, and the declining demand for coal as more power plants begin shifting to biomass and natural gas as a way to reduce emissions.

Change has been a constant throughout the history of our coal industry. West Virginians can choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or resist and be overrun by it.

One of Senator Byrd’s final votes was against a resolution sponsored by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that would have permanently removed EPA’s authority to reduce global pollution. During the debate over this resolution, Senator Byrd made it clear that inaction on global warming was bad for West Virginia.

We need to do something other than hold a political vote on the Murkowski resolution, which has zero prospect of enactment, and which would not alleviate uncertainty about the future even if it did pass the Senate. The Murkowski resolution would only foster confusion.

I believe that the best and most practical course of action is for the Senate to pass a bill that provides certainty and real answers for West Virginians and all Americans — a bill that will be passed by the Congress and signed by the President before new requirements that would broadly affect our economy are imposed by regulation

Senator Rockefeller did not follow Senator Byrd’s leadership, and instead voted to block all global warming pollution reductions. This measure failed 47–53.


This latest Benenson poll demonstrates that Americans oppose efforts to block EPA from requiring global warming pollution reductions from the largest polluters. Government analyses show that such reductions won’t hurt the economy. And one of the greatest West Virginians, Senator Robert Byrd, believed that efforts to resist change will harm, not help, the coal industry and his beloved state. Senator Rockefeller should respond to these factors rather than plunge forward with his dirty air bill designed to allow more pollution while benefitting big oil and coal companies.

Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Energy Opportunity Team.