While the Obama administration mulls whether to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, Americans are already decided. They support the project by a wide margin, prioritizing potential economic benefits over possible environmental consequences.
The latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll finds that more than two-thirds of respondents, 67 percent, support building the pipeline to carry Canadian oil to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast; that includes 56 percent of Democrats. Less than a quarter of Americans, 24 percent, oppose the project, the poll shows.
The State Department is evaluating the proposal, and President Obama said last month that the pipeline should not be permitted if it leads to a significant increase in greenhouse-gas emissions. There is no timeline for a decision, but the State Department says it is evaluating the project in "a rigorous, transparent, and efficient manner."
In the question posed by interviewers, poll respondents were told that Keystone supporters "say it will ease America's dependence on Mideast oil and create jobs," while opponents "fear the environmental impact" of building the pipeline. Specific environmental impacts, such as emissions and the risk of spills, were not enumerated as part of the question.
Congressional Republicans have been prodding the administration to approve Keystone, with the GOP House holding a symbolic vote in support of the pipeline in May. (That measure won unanimous support from Republicans, save for one member who voted "present," while 19 Democrats also voted in favor.)
But one energy issue that Republicans want the Obama administration to stay away from is climate, and specifically regulation of power plants to reduce carbon emissions. Here, Americans are more tightly split.
The poll found that 46 percent of respondents said they believe Congress should vote to stop recently proposed Obama administration regulations that would reduce emissions from power plants, while 42 percent said Congress should keep its hands off the decision. Another 12 percent are undecided.
Respondents were told that supporters of the new regulations "say these regulations are necessary to reduce the risk of global climate change” while opponents “say these regulations aren't worthwhile and could increase electricity prices."
Although a partisan divide exists on the issue, Americans are not strongly sorted according to political identification. Self-identified Democrats are also more inclined to buck the administration—35 percent say Congress should stop the regulations—than Republicans are to let the rules go ahead, with just 23 percent saying the regulations should be allowed. Independents, however, were divided almost evenly: 47 percent say they do not want Congress to halt the new regulations, and 45 percent say they do.
Americans who have attended college are more likely to support the new regulations—and oppose a congressional vote to stop them—with 48 percent saying Congress should not intervene, versus 40 percent who say it should. Support runs even higher among those who have graduated from college: 55 percent want the regulations to remain in place, and 36 percent want Congress to stop them. But among those with only a high school education or less, 53 percent want Congress to act to stop the rules, compared with just 35 percent who do not.
The poll also shows a gender divide: 52 percent of men want Congress to stop new regulations on power plants, but only 40 percent of women agree. And older Americans are more likely to support congressional action against the new regulations: Just 44 percent of respondents ages 18-49 think Congress should stop them, but half of those 65 and older want Congress to act.
Obama announced last month he was instructing the Environmental Protection Agency "to put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants, and complete new pollution standards for both new and existing power plants." These new regulations won plaudits from environmental groups and most Democrats, while Republicans accused Obama of endorsing a "national energy tax" and waging a "war on coal"—a complaint that was echoed by some Democrats from coal-producing states such as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
But Congress's role in the debate is largely limited. The GOP-led House can pass legislation to reverse the regulations, but any such measure would stand little chance in the Senate. The GOP's only ammunition is largely symbolic: Republicans have held up the nomination of Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency amid the broader debate over the minority's filibuster privileges—although McCarthy now appears on her way to confirmation.
The poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, which surveyed 1,002 adults from July 11-14 via landline and cellular telephone. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
This article appears in the July 17, 2013, edition of NJ Daily.