coal power plant

The Fayette Power Project, located about halfway between Houston and Austin, is one of Texas' coal-fired power plants. It is co-owned by the city of Austin and the Lower Colorado River Authority.

President Barack Obama’s proposed regulations to slash climate-disrupting pollution from existing power plants came under yet more criticism from Gov. Rick Perry this week, but a trio of new national polls found huge majorities of Americans support the new rules.

The survey findings suggested that Perry and other Republican leaders staunchly opposed to the Obama administration’s regulatory attack on climate change may be losing the backing of many members of their own party on the issue.

Speaking at Houston’s Petroleum Club on Monday, Perry claimed that the administration’s new rules aimed at a 30 percent reduction in climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants were part of a “war on American energy [designed] simply to appease what appears to be a tiny sliver of environmental extremists.”

The three polls found, however, that public support for the regulatory initiative to reduce carbon pollution from power plants reaches far beyond “a tiny sliver” of the population and extends well into the ranks of Perry’s fellow Republicans.

One of the surveys, released Wednesday, was conducted for the Wall Street Journal and NBC News. The second, carried out for the Bloomberg news service, was published June 10. The third was conducted for the Washington Post and ABC News and published on June 2, the day the new rules were unveiled. The Post-ABC poll survey took place over the four days immediately preceding formal announcement of the regulations’ announcement, when leaked details were already being widely reported.

The WSJ-NBC poll found that “more than two-thirds of Americans support President Barack Obama’s new climate rule and more than half say the U.S. should address global warming even if it means higher electricity bills.”

The poll finds that 67 percent of respondents either strongly or somewhat support EPA’s new rule, while only 29 percent oppose it. Americans are also increasingly willing to stomach higher electricity costs in order to cut carbon emissions. More than half of poll respondents – 57 percent – said they would support a proposal requiring companies to cut greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming even if it means higher utility bills. That figure is up 9 percentage points since October 2009.


More Americans today (61 percenet) compared with five years ago (54 percent) say that climate change is occurring and that some sort of action should be taken.  This indicates that a majority of Americans are out of step with most congressional Republicans who refuse to discuss climate change or propose policies to address it. The percentage of Americans who doubt climate science and don’t think action should be taken is slightly less today (37 percent) compared to 2009 (41 percent).

Bloomberg’s summary of its survey:

Americans are willing to bear the costs of combating climate change, and most are more likely to support a candidate seeking to address the issue.

By an almost two-to-one margin, 62 percent to 33 percent, Americans say they would pay more for energy if it would mean a reduction in pollution from carbon emissions, according to the Bloomberg National Poll.

While Republicans were split, with 46 percent willing to pay more and 49 percent opposed to it, 82 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of independents say they’d accept higher bills.

The Post reported the findings of its survey with ABC:

Fully 70 percent say the federal government should require limits to greenhouse gases from existing power plants, the focus of a new rule announced [June 2] by the Environmental Protection Agency. An identical 70 percent supports requiring states to limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions within their borders.  (Read everything you need to know about the EPA’s proposed rules).

Democrats and Republicans are in rare agreement on the issue. Fifty-seven percent of Republicans, 76 percent among independents and 79 percent of Democrats support state-level limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Strong tea party supporters are most resistant to limits on emissions by states and power plants; 50 percent say the federal government should impose caps, while 45 percent say they should not.

The cross-party agreement extends to a willingness to pay for such limits with higher energy bills, a flashpoint for debate and a key area of uncertainty in new regulations. Asked whether Washington should still go forward with limits if they “significantly lowered greenhouse gases but raised your monthly energy expenses by 20 dollars a month,” 63 percent of respondents say yes, including 51 percent of Republicans, 64 percent of independents and 71 percent of Democrats.

The Houston Chronicle reported Monday that at the Petroleum Club event where Perry spoke – a news conference by the Republican Governors Association – participating governors “portrayed the [Obama administration’s CO2-reducing] rule as a direct attack on the coal industry, which has already seen coal plants fall out of favor with utilities as cheap, low-carbon emitting natural gas surges. The rule could pave the way for more natural gas power plants.”

The federal initiative would give states broad flexibility to craft their own plans to reduce power plant pollution, ranging from substituting natural gas and renewables for coal-fired generation to more energy efficiency and conservation measures.

The Chronicle added:

When asked whether Texas will benefit from the EPA’s proposed policy, as it indirectly bolsters natural gas development by cutting into coal, Perry said it’s not up to the federal government to decide which energy sources are winners and losers. He said 37.6 percent of the energy produced in Texas is by coal power plants.

The Post-ABC poll, found, however, that even in the 19 states where coal accounts for more than half of power production, essentially the same overwhelming majority of residents favored cutting carbon pollution:

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.

The published summaries of the three new polls did not otherwise include state-by-state results. A group of Yale University surveys on climate-related opinions in Texas and three other states that were published last year revealed, however, that Texans were not vastly different in their attitudes from the respondents in California, Colorado and Ohio.

TCN reported at the time that the Yale pollsters found strong majorities in all four states (though not as strong in Texas) didn’t buy one longstanding argument against regulatory measures to cut greenhouse gases:

[…] Texans, like residents of the other three states, strongly rejected the argument made by a number of prominent Texas politicians (and others) that the U.S. should not act alone to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. In part, they assert that U.S. reductions without action by other countries would hurt the U.S. economy and that it would not be effective in curbing climate change.

Nonetheless, a strong majority of Texas poll respondents – 55 percent – said the U.S. should cut emissions regardless of what others do. Only 14 percent of Texans said the U.S. should never reduce emissions in any event. Smaller percentages said the U.S. should cut emissions in certain instances – 6 percent said that should happen if other industrialized nations also reduce greenhouse gases and 11 percent said the U.S. should act only if industrialized and developing nations do so.

In the other three states, majorities also favored U.S. reductions in heat-trapping pollutants even if there’s no similar action by other countries – 59 percent in Ohio, 73 percent in California and 69 percent in Colorado. The percentages opposing U.S. reductions in any case were similar to the Texas finding – 13 percent in Ohio, 9 percent in California and 12 percent in Colorado.

– Bill Dawson

Image credit: Lower Colorado River Authority