Americans split on energy production vs. environmental protection — poll

Source: Pamela King, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Americans are just about evenly divided on whether to prioritize energy production or environmental protection, according to the results of a new Gallup poll.

The gap between these two groups is also narrowing, the polling group says in its report. When Gallup conducted a similar poll last year, 50 percent of respondents said they favored energy, while 41 percent said the environment should take top priority.

This year, energy led — but not significantly — by 47 percent to 44 percent, based on telephone interviews conducted with 1,024 adults between March 8 and March 11 as part of Gallup’s annual environmental survey. It has a 4 percent margin of error.

Ten years ago, Americans favored environmental protection by 12 percentage points (52 percent to 40 percent). Since then, it seems all groups — even Democrats, who tend to favor the environment (56 percent) over energy (34 percent) — have moved toward fuel production priorities. In 2002, 31 percent of Democrats named energy their No. 1 priority, while 63 percent said the environment should be of top concern.

Republicans have made the biggest shift toward energy, with 68 percent preferring energy to 24 percent favoring the environment, compared with a 52 percent and 37 percent respective split in 2002.

If the scale is tipping in favor of energy advances over environmental precautions, the reason may be the poor economic climate, Gallup said. A poll from the group earlier this year showed that the economy was most Americans’ top worry — save for a brief period following the April 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico — although most people believe the nation’s financial situation is improving.

But it may actually be that environmental concerns are once again edging out the push for increased energy development, although not significantly.

Americans as a whole are showing a growing concern for the environment, which will pose interesting challenges for projects like TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline that are seen as polluting and could spark a drive for more alternative energy development and power conservation, Gallup said.

As another part of its yearly environmental survey, Gallup found that Americans are more likely to say the United States should pursue renewable energy supplies like wind and solar power (59 percent) over oil, gas and coal production (34 percent), even though Republicans as a group are more likely to favor traditional energy over alternative sources.

Over the years, poll participants have shifted toward energy conservation priorities above fuel production. A decade ago, 60 percent of Americans prioritized conservation above increased production (30 percent).

Today, that divide is 51 percent to 40 percent, a gap that has closed mainly because of Republicans’ changing preferences. Fifty-three percent of the party favored conservation in 2002, while 35 percent preferred production, compared with a 29 percent to 63 percent split today. Independents have made a slight shift away from conservation, while Democrats’ opinions on the matter have remained relatively unchanged.