A majority of U.S. voters think the government should be advancing policies that promote the growth of renewable energy, protect public lands, and strengthen protections against pollution of drinking water and air, according to a poll released Thursday by the Center for American Progress.
Conducted by national research firm Hart Research Associates, the poll of 1,101 American voters found that 72 percent strongly support more pollution controls, 70 percent strongly support protecting public lands like monuments and wildlife refuge areas, and 66 percent support the expansion of wind, solar, and renewable energy development. Sixty percent of voters surveyed also said they strongly supported setting limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants — a number that rose to 82 percent when including voters who said they somewhat support that proposal.
As noted by the Center in its press release accompanying the survey results, these opinions differ greatly from the policies being proposed and advanced by the Republican leaders of the new 114th Congress. Those include efforts to repeal the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed limits on greenhouse gases from power plants; efforts to increase the amount of Canadian tar sands oil entering the United States via approval of the Keystone XL pipeline; and a bill to lengthen and complicate the process for designating national monuments.
The poll, which had a 3.1 percent margin of error, also showed that the Keystone XL pipeline was a low priority for American voters concerned with energy issues. When asked a question about what Congress should be focusing on when it comes to energy policy, 11 percent said that they wanted more renewable energy, while 10 percent cited less dependence on foreign oil. Only 7 percent mentioned allowing the Keystone XL pipeline.
While some may argue that approving the Keystone XL pipeline would reduce dependence on foreign oil, that issue has been hotly debated, most notably because the oil that would be transported in the Keystone XL pipeline comes from Canada, a foreign country. Some have argued that the pipeline would reduce oil imports from the Middle East, but the Washington Post’s Fact Checker notes that the pipeline’s oil is expected to replace crude from Venezuela or Mexico. Either way, still foreign oil.
Achieving energy independence is one top priority for voters when it comes to energy policy, the poll said, but it also noted a sharp partisan divide when it comes to how energy independence can be achieved. Overall, more voters believe that can be accomplished by the development of America’s fossil fuel reserves as opposed to developing renewable energy resources, but only by a small margin — 44 to 41 percent. When divided by party, though, fifty-eight percent of Democrats believe renewable energy is the best way to go, while 60 percent of Republicans think more American fossil fuels should be developed. Independents are split on the issue, with 44 percent in favor of renewable and 43 percent in favor of fossil fuels.
When the issue of energy independence is taken out of the equation, though, the poll showed that 87 percent of voters are at least somewhat in support of expanding developing of solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources in the United States. An increase in the development of renewable energy is expected to be one effect of the EPA’s proposed regulations on carbon emissions from fossil fuel power plants. One of the ways states can meet their carbon reduction goals is to increase their use of energy efficiency targets and renewable energy.
As for the type of energy American voters most want to see expanded in the United States, solar topped the list, with 80 percent of voters saying it should be relied on more compared with other 9 percent of voters who said solar power should be relied on less. Seventy-three percent of voters said wind should be expanded, with only 14 percent of voters saying it should be cut back. Hydropower came in as the third most-recommended energy source for expansion, with 59 percent of voters wanting more and 10 percent of voters wanting less.
The lesson from all of this, according to Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Matt Lee-Ashley, is that despite the actions of the current Congress, voters want to see environmentally-friendly policies that encourage development of clean energy. The poll, he said, shows “the degree to which Americans place a high value on environmental protection — especially on transitioning to renewable energy sources in the coming years.”