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Bush's Grade on Environment Falls

Most seek more action, but few want caps on emissions or stricter mileage standards.

August 04, 2006|Bettina Boxall | Times Staff Writer

More Americans than ever disapprove of President Bush's handling of the environment, according to a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, which also has found that spiraling fuel costs are altering household spending habits.

Fifty-six percent of respondents in the national poll said the Bush administration was doing too little to protect the environment. The negative rating was up considerably from The Times' last major survey on the environment, in 2001, when 41% said he wasn't doing enough.

Nevertheless, despite growing disenchantment with administration policies, most people share the president's preference for investment in new technologies over mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions.

Respondent Lisa Brutvan, 42, a real estate consultant from Atlanta who is not registered with any political party, said she voted for Bush because of his stance on terrorism. "I knew in making that decision that I was making a choice against the environment. I figured that for eight years we could survive it," she said. "But I think it's reaching a little bit more of a critical mass.

"At some point you've just got to look at things realistically and realize we're not leaving much of a legacy for our grandchildren if we don't address these issues," she said. She faulted Bush's position on global warming in particular.

The survey of 1,478 adults, conducted over five days ending Tuesday, revealed a growing awareness of global warming. More than seven in 10 said it was a serious problem, and 58% said the Bush administration was doing too little to reduce it.

Three-quarters said they had cut back on household spending or taken steps to conserve energy in response to rising energy costs. Forty-five percent said they approved of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska; 51% opposed it.

Less than 10% said the government should mandate stricter mileage standards to reduce reliance on foreign oil, whereas 52% said the government should invest in alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power. (An additional 3% volunteered that the government should take both those measures and more.) And to cut carbon dioxide emissions linked to global warming, 56% favored market incentives to develop new technology, compared with 11% in favor of capping emissions from vehicles and businesses; 12% volunteered that the government should do both, and 15% said the government did not need to do anything more.

The survey also asked about nuclear power, with 61% saying they would support increased use of such energy "in order to prevent global warming."

Although the public agrees with the administration on some points, in general Americans say they want more action on environmental problems. By a margin of more than 2 to 1, they also say congressional Democrats do a better job on the environment than Republicans.

A strong partisan divide, as well as a regional divide, marked people's assessments. The president got his worst marks in the West and East, where slightly less than a third approve of his handling of environmental issues. He got his best score in the South, where 54% approve. Most Republicans, 74%, backed him on the environment, compared with 18% of Democrats.

"I think he's done an extremely poor job," said Democrat Herb Alston, 43, a real estate agent in San Francisco, complaining that Bush's appointees to agencies responsible for the environment had been too closely linked to business.

On the whole, Americans exhibited a strong environmental bent in the Times/Bloomberg poll, which was conducted under the supervision of Times Polling Director Susan Pinkus and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Three-fourths of respondents said they believed business would "cut corners and damage the environment" without strong government regulation. Fifty-seven percent of respondents -- including two-thirds of Westerners -- said that if improving the environment conflicted with economic growth, the environment should take priority.

Twenty percent said environmental standards should be relaxed to allow more gas and oil drilling to lessen the nation's reliance on foreign oil. But in the West, where the Bush administration has moved aggressively to expedite energy production on public land, half that proportion favored looser drilling regulations.

Although the Bush administration has advocated increased access for snowmobiles and other forms of motorized recreation in national parks such as Yellowstone, a substantial majority opposes such measures. In the West, home to many of the nation's most popular parks, 80% called for limiting access to snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles to protect natural habitat and wildlife. Nationally, the figure was 77%.

"I'm not a huge fan of snowmobiles," said Democrat Dasal Ridgley, 26, a student from Iowa City, Iowa. "It gives people easier access, but it also destroys the land."

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