This is a pivotal moment for energy policy in the United States. Because of the Gulf of Mexico catastrophe, the public’s attention is focused on the environmental and economic dangers of domestic oil extraction just as important energy legislation stands before the Senate. At the same time, polling shows that Americans are ready for real energy reform.

Following is a snapshot of recent polling data—including Oregon and Washington-specific research. My apologies for making a laundry list, but the numbers speak for themselves here:

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  • After the spill: The public is shifting toward environmental protection—and away from drilling.
    Even as early as May 27, Gallup polling found that the Gulf oil spill led to a shift in Americans’ views on the balance between pursuing energy supplies and environmental protection―the first since 2007. By mid-May, following heavy news coverage of the oil spill, the majority had shifted to favor environmental protection, by 55 to 39 percent.

    Similarly, a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll of adults taken on June 16, the day after President Obama’s Oval Office energy address, found an 18 percent swing towards opposition to increased drilling compared to a similar poll taken three weeks prior. And a New York Times/CBS News poll, from June 16—20, found that by a large margin, the public over all said more regulation of offshore drilling to protect the environment was needed. (76 percent), and a large majority has little faith in the oil industry generally to act in the public interest (74 percent).

    A Washington post-ABC News poll from June 3—6 found that just a quarter of Americans back expanding offshore drilling in the wake of the BP oil spill.

    There is broad, consistent support for energy reform and regulation. The latest Wall Street Journal-NBC Poll—conducted June 17—21—found overwhelming support for clean energy legislation. Respondents favored comprehensive energy and carbon pollution reduction legislation by 63 percent to 31 percent―a two to one margin.

    In the same poll, when asked “Do you support or oppose an energy proposal designed to reduce carbon emissions and increase the use of alternative and renewable energy sources, even if it means an increase in the cost of energy?,” 63 percent said they support such a proposal—36 percent strongly support it. Significantly, strong support for this legislation was double the strong opposition. Seventy-two percent favor Obama’s proposals to develop alternative sources of energy and reduce the amount of oil and other fossil fuels produced and used in the US.

    A New York Times/CBS News poll, from June 16—20, found that  Americans overwhelmingly think the nation needs a fundamental overhaul of its energy policies (89 percent).

    A Washington Post-ABC News poll from June 3—6 found that 71 percent believe the federal government “should regulate the release of greenhouse gases from sources like power plants, cars, and factories in an effort to reduce global warming” (52 percent strongly agreed).

    As I reported earlier, an early June poll by Benenson Strategy Group, on behalf of the League of Conservation Voters, found that 66 percent of Americans polled agree that “our addiction to oil threatens our security and we need more than a band-aid for that. Senators need to pass real reforms to hold polluters accountable and invest in clean American energy.”

    Notably, the Benenson Strategy Group poll still showed strong support for an energy reform bill—by 64 to 25 percent—even after respondents heard an opposition text packed with all the standard anti-climate legislation buzz phrases: “cap and tax,” “job-killer,” “pay more at the pump,” “cost for struggling middle class families,” “taxpayers’ hard-earned money for a wasteful Washington program,” etc.

    A Yale / George Mason poll, conducted May 14 —June 1, found that 77 percent support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant (up 6 percent from January 2010).

    According to another Benenson Strategy Group poll, conducted May 4—6, commissioned by Clean Energy Works, overall, 61 percent of 2010 voters support and just 31 percent oppose a bill “that will limit pollution, invest in domestic energy sources and encourage companies to use and develop clean energy. It would do this in part by charging energy companies for carbon pollution in electricity or fuels like oil.”

    A Roper / Stanford University poll, conducted June 1—7, found overwhelming support (a 76 – 20 majority) for government action to” limit the amount of greenhouse gases that US businesses put out.”

    Support in Oregon and Washington State: Statewide surveys conducted in Washington and Oregon by Public Policy Polling, May 18 —19, found that Washington and Oregon voters are strongly supportive of the American Power Act.

    Washington voters support the bill 54/41 percent. Support for the bill is overwhelming among Democrats, who break for it 81/14 percent. Eighty-eight percent of Democrats, 54 percent of Republicans, and 63 percent of independents say creating green jobs makes them more likely to support such legislation.

    Oregon voters support the American Power Act 57/39. Support for the bill is overwhelming among Democrats, who break for it by an 81/14 margin. Ninety perc
    ent of Democrats, 65 percent of Republicans, and 60 percent of independents say the bill’s creation of green jobs makes them more likely to support it.

    insulation green job morguefileThe economic benefits of clean energy policy—good business, more jobs—are clear. The Wall Street Journal-NBC Poll—conducted June 17—21—found that 69 percent of respondents feel that Obama’s proposals to develop alternative sources of energy and reduce the amount of oil and other fossil fuels produced and used in the US would increase the number of available jobs in the US. Seventy-nine percent felt that such proposals would make life better for the next generation of Americans.

    On June 9, Small Business Majority released the findings of a national poll of small business owners’ opinions on clean energy and climate legislation. A majority (61 percent) agree that moving the country to clean energy will help restart the economy and help small businesses create jobs, and 58 percent think that adopting new energy policies will transform the economy and they want their business to be a part of it.

    A solid 50 percent of small business owners said they support policy that would “put a price on carbon emissions from energy sources like oil and coal, so companies would have to pay if they release these emissions into the air.” Interestingly, 78 percent of African-American and 60 percent of Hispanic small business owners support such policy.

    A Roper / Stanford University poll, conducted June 1—7, found that the public is not buying the conservative argument that action on global warming will cost jobs. Just 18 percent accept that argument, while 50 percent think such action will actually produce more jobs (another 31 percent say “no effect”).


    Photo courtesy MorgueFile.