Written by: Dan Radmacher
August 16, 2011
The poll on attitudes of voters in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee about mountaintop removal and environmental protection had some incredibly strong numbers showing broad and deep opposition to mountaintop removal and very strong support of environmental regulations to protect streams, rivers and lakes from the impact of that mining.
But in his Coal Tattoo post on the poll, Ken Ward Jr. spent a good amount of time comparing one or two questions in the current poll to a West Virginia poll conducted in 2004. Ken says the comparison represents “some significant bad news in this new survey for groups that are working to end mountaintop removal.” We completely disagree. This poll is good news for those who oppose mountaintop removal and there is no comfort for the coal industry and its political supporters to be found in these results.
Here is what Ken focused on: In 2004, when asked if they support or oppose mountaintop removal with no description of the practice, 56 percent of West Virginians were opposed. Only 12 percent strongly favored the practice.
In this most recent poll, when asked the same question, opposition had dropped to 42 percent while strong support was up seven points. Similarly, support for legislation banning mountaintop removal mining dropped from 46 percent in 2004 to 40 percent in 2011.
Opposition to such a proposal is 10 points higher in West Virginia than in the other states surveyed for this poll.
Ken uses that to ask this question: “Could it be that the coal industry’s massive public relations campaign — not to mention all the free media featuring coalfield political leaders defending mountaintop removal — is having an impact?”
If so, the impact is quite “ephemeral,” as Lake Research Partners pollster Daniel Gotoff put it.
For instance, when respondents were given that brief, neutral explanation of what mountaintop removal mining is – “the top of a mountain is removed to extract the coal and waste is disposed in nearby valleys and streams” – opposition jumped from 42 percent to 54 percent. Not only that, but even without the explanation, those strongly opposed to mountaintop removal outnumber those who strongly support it 32 percent to 19 percent.
In addition, 56 percent of West Virginians say they’d be less likely to support a politician who’s in favor of weakening environmental regulations on mountaintop removal – identical to the 2004 number.
The bottom line is this: West Virginians by overwhelming margins want the Clean Water Act enforced and strengthened. When reminded what mountaintop removal involves, a solid majority opposes it. And a solid majority is willing to vote against politicians who try to weaken regulations on mountaintop removal. These attitudes cut broadly across party lines and every single demographic group.
The coal industry has spent countless dollars on billboards, radio and television commercials, and campaigns trying to boost coal’s image. State politicians have joined in, attacking “job-killing regulations” and demonizing the U.S. Environmental Protection.
To an extent, the industry and its supporters have succeeded. West Virginians have a very favorable image of coal mining.
But that strong favorable image does not extend to mountaintop removal mining, and the campaign has done nothing to blunt the public’s desire for strong protections for streams, rivers and lakes.
All this, we believe, adds up to good news and a strong argument to support more action against mountaintop removal. There is simply no good news for the coal industry in this poll.