Congress Debates Pollution Pricing; Public Wants Clean Energy Investment

April 2, 2009 | Michael Shellenberger,

While Congressional Democrats and leading green groups insist that what the public wants is cap and trade to deal with climate change, yet another poll was released today showing voters want investments in clean energy, not new taxes or regulations.

If I were a Republican, I'd be relieved to have climate legislation to attack right about now...

Here's a quick look at the highlights from the new Public Agenda/Yankelovich poll...

"In the context of the global financial crisis, nearly every issue is arguably an economic one. In fact, the public frames this as a matter of economics even more than environmentalism. For example, more than three-quarters (77 percent) say that investing in alternative energy is a better way to move the economy forward than drilling for fossil fuels. Some 86 percent agree that investing in alternative energy will create many new jobs (45 percent believe this strongly)." ...

"Majorities oppose measures that would force change by increasing the cost of driving, such as setting a "floor" on gasoline prices (72 percent, with 58 percent strongly opposed), congestion pricing (61 percent, 41 percent strongly) and higher gas taxes. Some 57 percent reject a gas tax even when if it would be used to achieve energy independence, with 37 percent strongly opposed." [Emphasis added]


Right now, the majority of the public sees the price of energy and the problem of oil dependence as deeply troubling problems. The economy is (obviously) at the front of everyone's mind. Climate change, needless to say, is a lesser concern.

Even though energy prices have fallen since the oil price spike of 2008, public concern over [energy] cost remains both strong and intense. An overwhelming 9 in 10 Americans (89 percent) say they worry about the cost of gas and fuel. Even more important is the intensity of that concern, with 57 percent saying they worry "a lot." Eight in ten (83 percent) worry that the U.S. economy is too dependent on oil, with 47 percent saying they worry "a lot." ...

Concern about dependence on foreign oil isn't as high as concern about price, but it's not far behind. Eight in ten (80 percent) say they worry dependence on foreign oil will involve us in wars and conflicts in the Middle East, with 43 percent worrying "a lot."

Climate change, however, is significantly less of a concern. Seven in ten (71 percent) say they worry about global warming, but only 32 percent say they worry "a lot" about it -- that's 25 points behind price. The issue of global warming simply doesn't have the same urgency yet for the public, possibly because it's further off, but the high price of gas remains fresh in their minds.[Emphasis added]


Once again, public opinion polling is pointing the way to a politically powerful energy agenda. The question remains: who's listening?