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State voters support cap and trade

A USC Dornsife/L.A. Times poll of 1,520 registered voters finds that they strongly support the state's ambitious program to limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

November 16, 2012|By Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times
  • Voters were divided on whether to relax rules on environmental reviews of developments. Above, work is done on solar panels in Woodland Hills.
Voters were divided on whether to relax rules on environmental reviews… (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles…)

SACRAMENTO — California voters strongly support the state's ambitious program to limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that cause global warming, according to a new post-election poll.

At the same time, the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll of 1,520 registered voters showed that they are sharply divided over whether it is a good idea for the state to relax requirements for environmental reviews of proposed new developments.

The two environmental findings were part of a wide-ranging telephone poll conducted from Nov. 7 to 12. In each case, voters were read a description of the issues involved and asked whether they agreed or disagreed.

In the case of global warming, voters were told about the pros and cons of a state law that seeks to curb emissions and provide financial incentives to find less-polluting alternatives. Then they were asked which view they generally agreed with.

In response, 63% said the law is needed, agreeing generally that the state needs to break from "outdated energy policies" and reward companies that produce energy from wind, solar and other renewable sources and to decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

But 32% said the state can't afford it, agreeing generally that this cap-and-trade plan to limit emissions is a "job-killing energy tax" that could "raise gas prices, increase energy costs and cost California thousands of jobs."

The remaining 5% had no opinion, or they neither agreed nor disagreed with the two sides.

The poll was commissioned by the USC DornsifeCollege of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the Los Angeles Times. It was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a Democratic firm, and American Viewpoint, a Republican company. The margin of sampling error is 2.9 percentage points. Details of the poll can be found online here.

The results were released Thursday, the day after the California Air Resources Board held its first quarterly auction of pollution credits. The pollsters had differing interpretations of the results.

Curbing global warming and reducing consumption of fossil fuels "is an issue that can't really be separated from the economy," said Greenberg's Drew Lieberman. "People are still expressing a clear belief in the power of clean energy as a driver."

Republicans, especially in California, "need to make clear … that they are in favor of green energy" but not at any price, said American Viewpoint's Dave Kanevsky. Cap-and-trade auctions and "some of the particular regulations may be harmful to the economy," he said.

As for relaxing state regulations on development projects, poll participants were told about proposals to change the 1970 California Environmental Quality Act. The law requires an environmental impact study for development projects before getting approval.

Poll respondents heard arguments for and against easing requirements for development and making it more difficult to file lawsuits to stop projects. Supporters and opponents were almost evenly divided.

In all, 46% said changes were a "good idea," agreeing that revisions to the law would boost the economy and create jobs by speeding construction of roads and other major public and private projects.

Forty-five percent called it a "bad idea," supporting the argument that changes will hurt the environment and the economy and reduce property values.

The remaining 9% had no opinion, refused to answer or neither agreed nor disagreed with the opposing statements.

Respondents to the polls generally split along similar lines when answering the two questions. People who strongly favored regulating emissions of greenhouse gases tended to also oppose relaxing the environmental law. In the same way, many participants who thought the state could not afford the limits on greenhouse gases also supported relaxing the development law.

Democrat Mary Hout, 65, an Oakland artist, said she supported the greenhouse gas credit auction because "it gives companies a chance to improve in ways that they choose rather than just being regulated."

But she opposed easing restrictions under the 1970 California Environmental Quality Act.

"Businesses are going to go for the most profit they can make unless there are some rules," Hout said. "Global warming is real, and they don't care."

Republican Clayton Timmer, 30, favored relaxing development laws, saying businesses already bear too much of an economic burden because of inflexible environmental regulations. Timmer works in a group home for emotionally disturbed boys near Chico.

As for greenhouse gases, he said the law seeking to reduce them is unaffordable.

"I'm not for getting rid of all emissions regulations," he said, adding that the state economy is one of the biggest in the world but is "being restricted by emissions regulations. China and India have virtually no regulations, so why are we burdening California with making the world cleaner when it's not really us who's polluting it that much?"

marc.lifsher@latimes.com

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