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Republicans Continue to Alienate Voters: This Time on the Environment

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ALTERNATIVE ENERGY POLL
AP

Republicans' war on our nation's environment is not quite getting maximum coverage, but it's every bit as unpopular as their other budget priorities. Americans do not want to see weakened protection of air and water quality, more oil industry exemptions from regulation, or the end of incentives for encouraging alternative energy technology. Republicans -- once again -- risk overplaying their hands by showing such enthusiasm for such unpopular positions.

This Gallup poll shows an alternative energy bill to be the most popular of a list of eight Congressional priorities. While this list may be outdated, the support for alternative energy sources is unmistakable.

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A CNN/ORC poll from last week showed a clear majority (71%) wanting to see the government to continue funding the EPA to "enforce regulations on greenhouse gases and other environmental issues." Even a majority of Republicans (53%) and conservatives (56%) agree the EPA should continue to receive funding.

There was some coverage of this recent WSJ/NBC poll, which showed voters nearly divided as to whether cuts to "the EPA, that is, the Environmental Protection Agency," were acceptable (51% acceptable, 46% unacceptable). I suspect these conflicting results are likely because there is more support for what the EPA does than for the federal agency itself. When phrased simply in terms of "pollution control" this January 2011 Harris Interactive poll agrees with the CNN poll, showing a majority opposed cuts to spending, in a series of questions about other potential cuts.

And while the Gallup table above shows support for expanding drilling and exploration for oil and gas, there is little support for special favors for those industries. In the same WSJ/NBC poll three-fourths find "eliminating tax credits for the oil and gas industries" an acceptable way to reduce the budget deficit.

Other arguments for weakening environmental protections also fall flat. On Saturday, the New York Times ran a front-page story about Republican governors around the country trying to roll back, among other things, protection of the Florida Everglades and of Maine woodlands, and even bans of toxic baby products. The governors typically cited concerns about protecting local businesses, even if polling shows their own voters disagree. Nationally, this GQRR/Ayres McHenry poll for the American Lung Association shows a lot more support for protecting air quality than for reducing regulations on businesses. It also shows a clear majority reject the argument that the economy is too weak for updated environmental protections.

The partisan clashes over women's cancer screening, Medicare vouchers, tax breaks for the super-rich, and even NPR, have been well-documented. But the political skirmish over the environment is a bit more under the radar, despite (as with the other examples) public opinion consistently against Republican positions. It's a pity, since the repercussions of environmental neglect are arguably the most long-lasting.

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