CONGRESS

Public Wary of Sequestration, Not Clean Energy

Amy Harder
May 22, 2012, 5:30 p.m.

A large ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans sup­port a pair of con­gres­sion­al ef­forts to cre­ate an eco­nomy based on clean­er-en­ergy sources, ac­cord­ing to the latest United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll.

Al­most two-thirds — 64 per­cent — of those sur­veyed said that Con­gress should ex­tend fed­er­al tax cred­its that en­cour­age pro­duc­tion of al­tern­at­ive-en­ergy sources, such as wind, that are due to ex­pire at year’s end. In a sep­ar­ate ques­tion, 64 per­cent of re­spond­ents said they sup­port en­act­ment of a clean-en­ergy stand­ard, which would re­quire the coun­try to pro­duce a high­er per­cent­age of its elec­tri­city from clean­er sources of en­ergy.

The United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll, con­duc­ted by Prin­ceton Sur­vey Re­search As­so­ci­ates In­ter­na­tion­al, sur­veyed 1,004 adults by land­line and cell phone from May 17-20, 2012. It has a mar­gin of sampling er­ror of +/- 3.6 per­cent­age points.

The poll’s find­ings in­dic­ate a dis­con­nect between what the pub­lic says it wants and what this Con­gress is able or will­ing to do on en­ergy policy, which in an elec­tion year is mostly nil.

In a vis­it on Thursday to Iowa — the coun­try’s second-largest wind-pro­du­cing state after Texas — Pres­id­ent Obama will urge Con­gress to ex­tend a key pro­duc­tion tax cred­it for wind and a clean-en­ergy man­u­fac­tur­ing cred­it. Con­gress is un­likely to con­sider these tax cred­its un­til year’s end when law­makers take up the an­nu­al “tax-ex­tenders” pack­age. Wheth­er con­gres­sion­al sup­port­ers of the tax cred­its, in­clud­ing seni­or Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Chuck Grass­ley of Iowa, can muster enough sup­port to ex­tend the cred­its re­mains un­cer­tain and likely de­pends on the out­come of the elec­tions. Ac­tion this year on a clean-en­ergy stand­ard meas­ure in­tro­duced by re­tir­ing Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Chair­man Jeff Binga­man, D-N.M., is very un­likely no mat­ter how Elec­tion Day goes.

While sup­port for these clean-en­ergy policies was pre­dict­ably stronger among Demo­crats and in­de­pend­ents than Re­pub­lic­ans, re­spond­ents identi­fy­ing with the GOP were split. Al­most half of Re­pub­lic­ans said they sup­port ex­tend­ing clean-en­ergy tax cred­its (48 per­cent) and en­act­ing a clean-en­ergy stand­ard (47 per­cent). That sup­port is not re­flec­ted in Wash­ing­ton, where most con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans shun clean-en­ergy policies, es­pe­cially an en­ergy man­date, in fa­vor of less gov­ern­ment in­volve­ment and re­du­cing the de­fi­cit.

Sup­port for the two policies was high­er among blacks and His­pan­ics, young­er people, and earners mak­ing less than $30,000 a year. For ex­ample, 61 per­cent of whites said they sup­port ex­tend­ing clean-en­ergy tax cred­its, but 72 per­cent of His­pan­ics and blacks said they do. Just over three-quar­ters of re­spond­ents between ages 18 and 29 said they sup­port ex­tend­ing the tax cred­its, while 54 per­cent of re­spond­ents older than 50 said they do.

Al­though Wash­ing­ton and the pub­lic ap­pear dis­con­nec­ted on clean-en­ergy policy, they’re more united on an­oth­er key en­ergy is­sue: hy­draul­ic frac­tur­ing, or “frack­ing,” a con­tro­ver­sial tech­no­logy used to de­vel­op de­pos­its of shale nat­ur­al gas and oil re­cently dis­covered in many re­gions of the coun­try.

A slight ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans are aligned with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­cent ac­tion to reg­u­late frack­ing, ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey: 53 per­cent said they sup­port in­creas­ing fed­er­al reg­u­la­tion of frack­ing; 25 per­cent said they sup­port de­creas­ing fed­er­al reg­u­la­tions to en­cour­age more nat­ur­al-gas pro­duc­tion. Only 15 per­cent said that the coun­try should com­pletely ban frack­ing be­cause of the en­vir­on­ment­al con­cerns, in­clud­ing wor­ries that it could con­tam­in­ate drink­ing-wa­ter sup­plies and worsen cli­mate change.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion is very un­likely to sup­port a com­plete ban on frack­ing. But it has in the past month an­nounced two reg­u­la­tions, in­clud­ing one to cut air emis­sions from frack­ing and an­oth­er re­quir­ing com­pan­ies drilling on pub­lic lands to dis­close the chem­ic­als they use. The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment has in the past left frack­ing reg­u­la­tion to states, but the shale-gas boom and es­cal­at­ing en­vir­on­ment­al con­cerns have promp­ted the ad­min­is­tra­tion to step in.

Ma­jor­it­ies of Demo­crats (60 per­cent) and in­de­pend­ents (55 per­cent) said that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment should in­crease reg­u­la­tions, while al­most a quarter (24 per­cent) of in­de­pend­ents agreed with 41 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans that the gov­ern­ment should de­crease reg­u­la­tions to stim­u­late more en­ergy pro­duc­tion.

Re­spond­ents in the East, which in­cludes Ap­palachi­an states such as Pennsylvania that are ground zero for the shale-gas boom, are the least sup­port­ive of frack­ing. But even there, only 18 per­cent back a com­plete ban. Ex­actly half sup­port in­creas­ing fed­er­al reg­u­la­tions.

Mean­while, Amer­ic­ans seem the most di­vided over what Wash­ing­ton should do with the im­pend­ing auto­mat­ic cuts of $600 bil­lion in both do­mest­ic pro­grams and de­fense spend­ing, which Con­gress agreed last sum­mer to im­pose at year’s end if it couldn’t reach an agree­ment to re­duce the de­fi­cit.

A plur­al­ity (41 per­cent) said that Con­gress should up­hold the ori­gin­al agree­ment to equally bal­ance the cuts between de­fense and do­mest­ic pro­grams, but an­oth­er 26 per­cent said that Con­gress should cut more from do­mest­ic pro­grams and less from de­fense. Yet an­oth­er 20 per­cent said Con­gress should strike the en­tire deal and not im­pose any cuts at all.

A ma­jor­ity of Demo­crats (54 per­cent) said that the agree­ment should stay as is, but few­er in­de­pend­ents (43 per­cent) and Re­pub­lic­ans (32 per­cent) agreed with that po­s­i­tion. Al­most half (44 per­cent) of Re­pub­lic­ans said that more cuts should come from do­mest­ic pro­grams to pre­serve de­fense spend­ing. Re­spond­ents with a high school de­gree or less seemed to be the least sup­port­ive of keep­ing the agree­ment as it is — just 36 per­cent sup­por­ted the status quo.

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