Survey finds support for federal emission limits

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By Emma Kinery, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 28, 2015

According to a University survey released earlier this month, 67 percent of Americans support the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, a framework for curbing carbon emissions.

The Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the University’s Ford School of Public Policy and the Institute of Public Opinion at Muhlenberg College conducted the telephone survey from Oct. 6, 2014 through Nov. 6, 2014.

Pollsters spoke with a random sample of 942 Americans, and report a 3.5 percent margin of error.

The Obama Administration created the Clean Power Plan in June 2014 to increase efforts to combat climate change. By 2030, the EPA hopes the plan will have cut emissions from electricity-generating facilities by 30 percent below the 2005 output levels.

Additionally, the survey showed 73 percent of Americans support proposed requirements that would require new power plants to significantly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

To accomplish that goal, the EPA is working with states to create individually targeted emission reduction goals. The poll also addressed policies and restrictions states could employ to comply with the Clean Power Plan.

Eighty-four percent of the 942 survey participants supported the requirement of energy efficiency standards for new homes and appliances. Seventy-nine percent approved of renewable portfolio standards — policies that would increase the generation of electricity from renewable resources.

Nic Clark, the state director for Clean Water Action, said he was not surprised by the high support for environmental initiatives.

“Resoundingly, when we go out and talk about issues of our changing climate, such as emissions from coal-fired power plants,” Clark said, “people really see it as a no-brainer and are very supportive of measures to reduce our impact on our changing climate.”

In his State of the State address, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder announced the creation of a new state energy agency. He will give a speech in March focused on energy and his plans for the new agency.

“It needs to be an adaptable policy because of the lack of federal policy and the challenges of a global market place,” he said in his address. “We need to focus in on important things, such as, eliminating energy waste and the conversion from coal to natural gas assets of the state of Michigan and renewables.”

Currently, Michigan is working under the Clean, Renewable and Efficient Energy Act, signed into law in October 2008, which mandates that Michigan electricity suppliers include at least 10-percent renewable energy sources by 2015.

Though the survey showed most Americans support actions for energy efficiency, people had differing opinions about what their individual states should do. Forty-three percent of Americans want their state to wait to implement new policies until there was more knowledge on the Clean Power Plan, and to see how other states pass legislation to handle the standards. Another 41 percent feel adopting new standards should not be up to the states, and instead they should all cooperate with the federal government on a Clean Power Plan program.

Conversely, a 9-percent minority feels their state should refuse to cooperate with the new standards and instead band with other individual states to jointly sue the federal government over the ordeal.

According to the survey data, both Republicans and Democrats see value in the plan to reduce emissions, but differ in their view on how to address the issue at the state level. Fifty-two percent of Republicans support waiting until other states pass legislation, and then modeling their state plans off of those piloted by other states, while 52 percent of Democrats support making the initiative a more federally guided project.

In Michigan, both legislators and special interest groups see Snyder’s state energy agency as a start, but are unsure of what the proposal will bring.

State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) said Snyder has made some strong statements on conservation and energy, but it remains to be seen what, exactly, he will do with his opportunity to lead on the issue.

“I think there really is an opportunity for a bipartisan compromise and a real coming together of the parties on conservation, which is not the most sexy element of energy policy, but is probably actually the most important,” Irwin said.

Irwin said energy policies not only help the environment, but by creating initiatives that put people back to work and help save citizens money, help the economy as well.

Clark, of Clean Water Action, also noted the ways in which combatting climate change could be beneficial for economic reasons, pointing to the large sums of money Michigan spends annually to repair damage caused by extreme weather.

While they were happy to hear Snyder was showing positive support to the cause, Clark and Irwin both questioned how much change he would actually bring.

“The governor announcing his plan to address this is great,” Clark said, “but we need real-world action now.”

Irwin added that this issue could be an opportunity for bipartisanship.

“I think there may be some real, bipartisan, coming together on efficiency and conservation, which certainly can lead to a reduction of emissions,” Irwin said. “But when it comes to focusing on a purely environmental goal, like reducing emissions, I think it’s going to be very, very difficult to get the attention of the Republicans.”

He also pointed to the influence fossil fuel companies have over the Michigan legislature.

“When you get over to the other issues, such as trying to wean ourselves off of dirty fuel, that is going to be harder,” he said.

The survey results reflected Irwin’s viewpoint: 59 percent of Americans opposed increasing taxes on fossil fuels used to produce electricity.