The Hill: On EPA rules, let the public clear the air
Every shred of public polling shows that the American voter is unhappy with Congress. However, an area that has historically been a clear point of partisanship is surprisingly bi-partisan according to a poll we released today. By a wide margin, voters of both political parties disagree with Congress’ anti-Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agenda and support the EPA’s new rules to limit air pollution from coal-fired power plants.
The poll, conducted on behalf of Ceres from Aug. 31 to Sept. 7, gauged voters’ feelings about two EPA clean air rules - the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards Rule (also known as the Utility MACT). The first rule will require significant reductions in harmful power plant emissions, mostly from coal-fired generators, that drift hundreds of miles downwind and across state lines. The second rule will require power plants to curb toxic emissions of mercury, lead, arsenic and acid gases by 2015. Many of the power plants impacted by these rules are more than 50 years old.
The numbers speak for themselves. Out of 1,400 voters we surveyed across the country, 67% of voters support the CSAPR and 77% of voters support the Toxics rule. Overwhelming, Americans think these rules will have a beneficial impact on health, and say that health should be the driving determinant on whether the rules go forward. A plurality says the rules will have a positive impact on jobs.
Surprisingly, our poll found that support for the EPA air pollution rules extends across the political spectrum. By three to one —75 percent— the public believes that the EPA, not Congress, should determine whether stricter limits are needed on air pollution from electric power plants. This is a view supported by members of all parties, with 85 percent of Democrats, 62 percent of Republicans, and 79 percent of Independents in agreement. Additionally, 88 percent of Democrats, 85 percent of Independents, and 58 percent of Republicans oppose Congressional efforts to stop the EPA from enacting these new limits on air pollution from electric power plants. Our research clearly demonstrates that Republican voters are willing to support new rules to reduce harmful emissions in order to improve public health. As it turns out, Republicans like clean air, too. While it’s true many Republican voters are unhappy with the Administration’s slew of new regulations, new pollution standards are the exception. The Republicans in Congress who have voted lockstep to block the Administration’s new regulations should listen to voters and make an exception for these new air pollution standards.
A full 75 percent of voters believe a good reason to implement these rules is the boost they will provide to local economies and the thousands of new jobs that will be created from investments to meet the regulations. As a University of Massachusetts study for Ceres found earlier this year, voters are accurate in this assumption - that research found that 1.4 million new jobs would be created over the next five years through investments in pollution controls, new plant construction, and the retirement of older, less efficient coal plants as the country transitions to a cleaner, modernized generation fleet.
Additionally, you hear a lot of the “costs versus the benefits” argument surrounding EPA rules; we found that voters clearly see the value of the clean air rules. Sixty-five percent of voters surveyed are confident that the health and environmental benefits of air pollution standards outweigh the costs of complying with them, and 79 percent of voters agree that the rules are important to enact for health reasons. Rightly so, as power plant pollution is responsible for more than 53,000 premature deaths, 26,000 non-fatal heart attacks, and more than 520,000 asthma attacks each year.
In a time of extreme polarization in politics, it’s refreshing and rare to see the public in agreement on something. Voters not only overwhelmingly support the EPA’s clean air rules, but they also firmly believe that the EPA should be allowed to do its job without interference from Congress.
Geoffrey Garin is the president of Hart Research Associates, one of the nation's leading survey research firms. Greg Strimple is the president of GS Strategy Group, a nationally recognized public opinion research firm based in Boise, ID.