Big majority of Americans want states to act on climate — poll

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Two-thirds of Americans believe that states should take responsibility for addressing climate change in the absence of federal leadership on the world’s most pressing environmental challenge, according to a new poll by researchers at the University of Michigan.

The survey, conducted before President Trump’s announcement that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, but after the dismantling of U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan, buttresses arguments that the Trump administration’s environmental directives diverge from the views of many Americans.

The findings also take on heightened relevance as a dozen states, led by California, New York and Washington, pledged to work toward meeting the Paris framework goals under the newly formed U.S. Climate Alliance. Those states were joined by 18 attorneys general from across the country and more than 100 mayors representing cities large and small. Hundreds of business executives have also joined (Climatewire, June 6).

“As President Trump was announcing that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris Accord, a number of governors and mayors reaffirmed their commitment to reducing carbon emissions, pledging deep cuts within their boundaries and proposing more interstate collaboration,” said Barry Rabe, a professor of public policy and director of the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. “Our data suggest that these state-level pledges match the expectations of a majority of Americans.”

The survey gleaned information from 841 adults polled between mid-April and mid-May. It was the latest in a series of studies called the National Surveys on Energy and Environment, administered by the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa.

Sixty-six percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “If the federal government fails to address the issue of global warming, it is my state’s responsibility to address the problem.”

Notably, majorities from both major political parties said they agreed with the statement, although the positive response was much higher among Democrats (77 percent) than Republicans (51 percent).

Meanwhile, 81 percent of respondents said they support efficiency mandates, while 79 percent said they support renewable portfolio standards. Those standards have helped drive clean energy transitions in 29 states and are credited with curbing greenhouse gas emissions by 59 million metric tons, according to Department of Energy statistics.

Even larger majorities of both Democrats and Republicans said they support wider deployment of U.S. solar and wind power beyond what state renewable portfolio standards already require. And a majority of respondents, including those who reject that climate change is a problem, say they believe the renewable energy sector is creating jobs.

“While it is still unclear what specific policies states will seek to uphold their pledges, our data finds the suite of policy options that have previously formed the backbone of state climate policy are likely to enjoy broad-based public support across the political spectrum, even among those who don’t necessarily think that climate change is occurring,” Rabe said.

Sarah Mills, a research fellow at Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy, said the results suggest that climate policymaking is returning to where it was in the early to mid-2000s, when “states were really driving climate policy” during the George W. Bush years.

“Americans say if the federal government doesn’t want to act on climate anymore, then states should be back in the driver’s seat … where we have historically made progress and where we can continue to make progress in the future,” she said.