Most Americans Oppose Restrictions on EPA, Poll Finds

Three out of four of those surveyed, including 61% of the Republicans, say "Congress should let the EPA do its job," according to a new poll by NRDC

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WASHINGTON—Anti-regulatory legislators might be thumping their chests about their newest ambitious attempts to halt the Environmental Protection Agency in its tracks.

But are Americans willing to support such efforts to block Clean Air Act updates for heat-trapping greenhouse gases, smog and other pollution?

In a word, no.

At least that’s the answer that the Natural Resources Defense Council received after surveying 1,007 residents nationwide. More than 75 percent of the respondents oppose congressional efforts to limit the EPA’s authority to enforce the Clean Air Act. That figure included a majority of the self-identified Republicans answering the survey.

“The poll findings reflect strong bipartisan support both for the EPA in general and also for it playing a vigorous role in relation to fighting air pollution,” said Graham Hueber, senior policy manager for Opinion Research Corp., which conducted the poll. “There is no evidence in this survey to suggest that Americans have any appetite for dismantling an agency that they see as protecting the health of themselves and their families.”

What Prompted the Poll

With initiatives to curb greenhouse gas emissions mostly stalled at the legislative level, EPA-bashing has become common practice for Republicans and some conservative Democrats on Capitol Hill.

And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — who appears to be trying to burnish his credentials among conservatives while contemplating a 2012 try for the presidency on the Republican ticket — amplified the argument with his talk last month of replacing the EPA with what he calls a more business-friendly “Environmental Solutions Agency.”

“The new ESA will be a successor agency to the EPA, incorporating the statutory responsibilities of the old EPA while making necessary statutory changes that will eliminate the job-killing regulatory abuses and power grabs of the old EPA,” Gingrich wrote on his blog.

Gingrich’s comments prompted NRDC to conduct the poll. Survey results reveal that 67 percent of the respondents, including 61 percent of Republicans, oppose such a move to abolish the EPA. Only one-quarter of those surveyed are on board with Gingrich’s plan.

“The bottom line is clear,” said Pete Altman, NRDC’s climate campaign director. “Democrats, Republicans and independents want politicians to protect the health of America’s children rather than the profit-driven agenda of big polluters. People … want Congress to let the agency do its job.”

NRDC research shows that as of Jan. 25, 123 representatives from 35 states and 18 senators from 12 states have co-sponsored at least one piece of legislation designed to prevent the EPA from slicing pollution emitted from industrial plants and other sources.

Other Survey Results

A sampling of three other findings from the January survey reveals that:

  • Close to two-thirds of those surveyed (63 percent) agree that “the EPA needs to do more to hold polluters accountable and protect the air and water,” while under one-third (29 percent) say that the EPA already “does too much and places too many costly restrictions on businesses and individuals.” By political party registration, that 29 percent figure includes 44 percent of the Republicans interviewed, 29 percent of the independents and 16 percent of the Democrats.
  • Three out of four of those surveyed (77 percent), including 61 percent of the Republicans surveyed, say “Congress should let the EPA do its job.” About 18 percent of the respondents (32 percent of them Republicans) agree that “Congress should block the EPA from updating pollution safeguards.”
  • Close to 40 percent of those surveyed — two out of five respondents — agree with Gingrich’s proposal to replace EPA with “an agency that would place equal consideration for corporate interests as it does for protecting American families against air and water pollution.”

Opinion Research Corp. conducted the telephone survey of adults older than age 18 between Jan. 27 and 30. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Now that Republicans reign with a majority in the House, California Rep. Henry Waxman wields much less power as the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee. The co-author of a much-maligned and now-dead measure to regulate carbon pollution via a cap-and-trade system has voiced his frustration with GOP initiatives targeting the EPA.

“The Republicans have a lot of power, but they can’t amend the laws of nature,” Waxman said in a recent news release. “Gutting the Clean Air Act is only going to make our problems worse. This proposal threatens public health and energy security, and it undermines our economic recovery by creating regulatory uncertainty.”

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