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Public backs Keystone pipeline, power-plant emissions curbs, poll says

September 26, 2013|By David Lauter
  • Activists march to State Department headquarters in Washington to protest against the Keystone XL pipeline.
Activists march to State Department headquarters in Washington to protest… (Alex Wong / Getty Images )

WASHINGTON -- In the debate over energy and climate change, the public continues to give support to both sides, according to a a new poll.

By more than a 2-1 margin, respondents in a new Pew Research Center poll said they favor building the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from tar sands deposits under Canada’s western prairies through the Midwest to refineries in Texas.

Republicans in Congress have strongly advocated building the pipeline, while President Obama has given mixed signals on the project, saying he would approve it only if doing so would not contribute to global warming.

At the same time, poll respondents, by the same margin, said they support proposals to further limit emissions of greenhouse gases from power plants -- something that Obama has proposed but which Republicans have denounced as part of a “war on coal.”

The survey, conducted earlier this month, found that on a range of energy policy issues, public sentiment confounds current political divisions.

A significant majority of respondents, 58%, said they favored increased drilling for oil and gas offshore, for example. But opposition has mounted to “fracking,” the process of injecting water and chemicals underground to increase production of natural gas. Opponents say the process has damaged water supplies in some communities.

A Pew survey in March found that 38% of respondents said they opposed increased use of fracking. In the current poll. 49% said they were opposed to use of the process, and 44% said they favored it.

Opposition increased most sharply in the Midwest, where almost half of those surveyed said they now oppose increased use of fracking, compared with just one-third in March. The poll also found that opposition has grown more sharply among Republicans and independents than among Democrats, who were already more likely to be against the technique.

Opposition to nuclear power also has increased, the poll said, with 58% of those surveyed saying they opposed increased use of nuclear energy.

As previous polls have shown, the current survey said the public is more likely to favor “developing alternative sources, such as wind, solar and hydrogen technology” than to back “expanding exploration and production of oil, coal and natural gas.”

In the latest poll, just more than half of those surveyed gave priority to alternative energy sources, compared with one-third who favored expanded production of fossil fuels. That preference showed up most strongly among younger Americans, with almost three-quarters of those younger than 30 favoring alternative energy, compared with just less than half of those older than 50.

Although respondents gave support to both sides in the nation’s energy debate, the poll did point to some sharp partisan divisions. On the Keystone pipeline, for example, Republicans overwhelmingly were in favor of the project, 82%-13%, while Democrats were closely split, with 51% supporting the pipeline and 43% opposed. Independents support the pipeline by a 2-1 margin, the poll said.

The division among Democrats has helped make the Keystone issue a difficult one for Obama. Many environmentalists strongly oppose the pipeline, saying that exploiting the tar sands would worsen the global climate problem. But some unions support it as a jobs issue, and other Democratic groups have argued that the project would reduce U.S. dependence on oil from the Middle East.

The administration was expected to make a decision on the pipeline later this year, but Republicans are trying to short-circuit that process and force Obama to approve it as part of a deal to raise the ceiling on the government’s debt.

Opinion regarding emissions from power plants presents a mirror image. Republicans were closely divided, the poll said, with just more than half saying they favor “setting stricter emission limits on power plants in order to address climate change.” Democratic respondents overwhelmingly favored the idea, 74%-21%.

Partisan differences on energy policy have grown in recent years, much as they have on many other issues. Compared with respondents in polls taken during George W. Bush’s administration, Republicans in the current survey have become less supportive of energy conservation and alternative energy measures. The views of Democrats have remained largely the same.

The survey, taken Sept. 4-8, interviewed 1,506 Americans age 18 and older. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

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