The Colstrip Steam Electric Station, a coal-fired power plant in Colstrip, Montana, in April 2010. It is Montanaâ
A new poll released on Monday shows widespread public support for Barack Obama’s controversial carbon emissions reduction regulations proposed on June 2.
The poll, conducted by Hart Research Associates and Public Opinion Strategies for NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, found that 57% of Americans approve of a proposal that would require companies to cut greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, even if that proposal would increase their utility bills.
The poll also found that a majority of the public — 61% — believe that there is at least enough evidence showing that global climate change is a serious enough problem to warrant taking action (this is up from 54% in 2009). The poll included 1,000 American adults and has a margin of error of 3.1%.
On June 2, the Obama administration issued draft regulations that would mandate cuts to carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants by 30% below 2005 levels by 2020. The proposed rules, which would be implemented using the administration's authorities under the Clean Air Act, would give states flexibility in how they would achieve these reductions at the lowest possible cost, from joining carbon trading systems with other states to investing in renewable energy sources.
The poll found that a majority of Americans support the proposal, despite the Republican Party’s denunciation of the plan as part of a “war on coal” that would have devastating economic consequences.
In addition, the poll found that 67% of respondents somewhat to strongly support the EPA policy, compared to 29% who somewhat to strongly oppose it.
The poll comes on a day when four former Republican administrators of the EPA testified in favor of the regulations before the Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety. Speaking to reporters before the hearing, the former officials lamented the polarization that has taken place between the parties on climate change, and said that Republicans will only start supporting taking action on climate change once the public demands it.
“When all of these enviro issues have been dealt with successfully in the past it’s when there’s strong public support for action,” said William Ruckleshaus, who served as the first-ever EPA administrator when Richard Nixon established the agency in 1970. “If there’s demand for action, there will be action.”
William K. Reilly, who served as EPA administrator under President George H.W. Bush, said President Obama’s recent criticism of Republican lawmakers as “climate deniers” probably won’t help or hurt public support for the regulations, because the public is already on board with the need to take action.
“I don’t think the politics of it was uppermost in his mind,” Reilly said, referring to a fiery speech Obama delivered at the University of California at Irvine on June 14. “I think he is pleasantly surprised that the country has come to support” his actions, Reilly said.
Christine Todd Whitman, George W. Bush’s first EPA chief, said she knows of several Republicans who do believe the climate is changing in part due to human activities, but they need “political cover” in order to support policy proposals.
While the former officials said they hoped to encourage some bipartisan cooperation on the climate issue, it became immediately just minutes into the hearing that this is not going to happen anytime soon.
Once the hearing began, which was on the “need to act” to address climate change, Republican senators pounced on the Obama administration’s actions as a “federal takeover of the electricity system” and a “disaster” for the country that would have “no environmental benefits.” Democrats, meanwhile, hailed the proposal as a commonsense step toward addressing a major environmental problem.
The former EPA officials took in the spectacle from the witness table, like relics from a distant past in which lawmakers reached across party lines on issues like clean air and water.
Tags: Barack Obama