Steam rises from the stacks of the coal-fired Jim Bridger Power Plant outside Point of the Rocks, Wyoming in this file photo taken March 14, 2014.
Jim Urquhart/Reuters

Public endorses limits on carbon pollution

When drawing up lists of who still opposes U.S. efforts to address the climate crisis, it’s a shrinking group. Indeed, at first blush, we’re effectively left with polluters and Republicans.
But taking a closer look, that’s not a fair characterization – as is the case in so many areas, there’s a difference between what Republican voters think and what Republican policymakers think.
A lopsided and bipartisan majority of Americans support federal limits on greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll that also finds most are willing to stomach a higher energy bill to pay for it.
Fully 70 percent say the federal government should require limits to greenhouse gases from existing power plants, the focus of a new rule announced Monday by the Environmental Protection Agency. An identical 70 percent supports requiring states to limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions within their borders…. Democrats and Republicans are in rare agreement on the issue.
That last part is the most unexpected aspect of the results. As is the case in the debate over gun safety and immigration, the divide is not between Democrats and Republicans. Rather, it’s between elected Republican officials and the American mainstream – since GOP voters don’t toe the party line.
Consider this in chart form.
The Washington Post/ABC News poll specifically asked respondents, “Do you think the federal government should or should not limit the release of greenhouse gases from existing power plants in an effort to reduce global warming?” Overall, 70% support federal limits.
But in the chart I put together – darker colors show support for federal limits, lighter colors show opposition – consider the partisan breakdown. Sure, Republican support is weaker than among self-identified Democrats and Independents, but it’s nevertheless clear that a majority of GOP voters support federal limits on carbon pollution.
The same poll asked respondents about a policy that sounds a lot like the new Obama administration plan: “Do you think the federal government should or should not require states to limit the amount of greenhouse gases produced within their borders, in an effort to reduce global warming? The states could make their own plans how to comply.” The results were practically identical – 70% overall support state requirements, and that includes a majority of self-identified Republicans.
Finally, the same poll asked, “What if that significantly lowered greenhouse gases but raised your monthly energy expenses by 20 dollars a month – in that case do you think the government should or should not limit the release of greenhouse gases?” The results were so surprising, here’s another chart:
Just so we’re clear, a majority of Americans – regardless of party affiliation – is prepared to raise their own energy bills a bit in order to combat climate change. That’s no small development.
Scott Clement’s report added, “Americans living in coal-heavy states are supportive of limiting greenhouse gas emissions in the poll, even as their states will be forced to make bigger adjustments to meet the EPA’s new emissions targets. Among those in states where a majority of electricity is produced by burning coal, 69 percent say the government should place limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Support is a similar 71 percent in states where less than half of electricity comes from coal.”
It’s always wise to wait for additional polling data before drawing sweeping conclusions, but if this poll accurately reflects public opinion, most Americans – at least those outside of Congress – not only recognize the seriousness of the climate crisis, but support action to address it.
I wouldn’t have guessed these results, and I’m delighted to have been wrong.