As temperatures rise, so does number of Americans who care

File Photo: Buildings are seen near the ocean as reports indicate that Miami-Dade County in the future could be one of the most susceptible places when it...
File Photo: Buildings are seen near the ocean as reports indicate that Miami-Dade County in the future could be one of the most susceptible places when it...
Joe Raedle/Getty Images, File

Climate change may have taken a backseat to guns, immigration and the debt ceiling in Washington this year—but that doesn’t mean the environment isn’t on the forefront of many Americans’ mind.

According to a new Gallup poll, the percentage of Americans concerned about global warming is on the rise, with 58% saying they are worried a great deal or fair amount about the issue. That’s up from 51% just two years ago.

The heightened concern comes on the heels of recent oil spills in Texas and Arkansas, which are raising questions about the environmental dangers of the controversial Keystone Pipeline project. Bill Burton, who helped catapult Obama to the presidency in 2008 and then served as his White House deputy press secretary, meanwhile is pushing a new initiative for the president to reject the pipeline. Those environmental issues could come up Tuesday at the confirmation hearings for Ernest Moniz, Obama’s new nominee for energy secretary. Moniz has received a lot of praise from environmental groups, but some critics are concerned about his ties to fossil fuel, fracking and nuclear power.

Proponents of the Keystone Pipeline project – mainly Republicans – say the plan, which would create a pipeline from Canada to Texas,  would create thousands of jobs and make the country less dependent on foreign sources, although critics say the project would release dangerous greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s not a warning. It’s a prediction of what will come [if the project is greenlighted],” Michael Brune, executive director of environmental group, the Sierra Club, told “It’s not a question of whether these pipelines will leak, but when and how bad the damage will be…If you want to look at the future, look at what happened in Arkansas and multiply it times 10.”

“All Risk, No Reward,” the coalition Burton is spearheading, will begin to target influential Dems and young voters to rail against Keystone. He echoed Brune’s sentiment on Monday.

With the Mayflower spill last Friday and the most recent spill in Texas just a couple days ago, “there is a growing mountain of evidence of the dangers that would come with a pipeline spanning some of the most sensitive areas of our country,”Burton said during a conference call.

The Obama administration is expected to weigh in on the plan sometime this year. The president spoke on climate change at two fundraisers in California last week. While he placed responsibility for change on all Americans, he offered little in the way of specifics.

Meanwhile, opponents of the Keystone project are putting their bullseye on Dems in heated races who support the project. Take Massachusetts, where Rep. Stephen Lynch (who supports the pipeline) is up against fellow Democrat Rep. Edward  Markey (against the pipeline) to replace former Sen. John Kerry. Environmental groups like the League of Conservation Voters and NextGen Committee are pouring in money to support Markey.  Hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer, who heads environmental group, is also saying he’s willing to spend big bucks on the election if Lynch does not renounce his backing of the project.

As Gallup notes, however, concern over the environment, particularly global warming has gone up and down over the past 20 years, ranging between 50% and 72%. And despite the increased concern, 41% believe  the latest news about global warming is exaggerating, although that’s down from 48% in 2010.