This post includes climate and environment headlines, data points, and key takeaways from recent public polls - including new polling on the East Palestine disaster and railroad safety, new polling on permitting reform and grid expansion, and new polling on the causes that voters blame for high gas prices.
- The Economist + YouGov - Voters blame Norfolk Southern for the East Palestine train derailment and want more limits on the transportation of hazardous materials (Topline, Crosstabs)
- Data for Progress - After the East Palestine train derailment, voters support several measures to improve railroad safety - including stronger safeguards for the transportation of liquefied natural gas (Article, Topline)
- Data for Progress - Voters overwhelmingly want to make it easier to build new power lines in the United States, but are not as enthusiastic about new fossil fuel projects (Article, Crosstabs)
- Navigator - Voters aren’t sure what to blame for gas prices, but shift to blaming oil companies after learning about these companies’ record profits (Release, Deck)
- There’s now a window to push popular railroad safety measures after East Palestine. The Economist and YouGov find that the East Palestine disaster is breaking through to the public, as the vast majority of Americans have heard about the incident, and the public is eager for actions to prevent similar disasters in the future. The Economist and YouGov find that Americans support more limits on the transportation of hazardous materials, and new polling by Data for Progress additionally finds that voters support a wide range of measures to increase rail safety - including stronger regulations on railroad cars that are carrying liquefied natural gas (LNG) and other dangerous substances.
- We can’t talk enough about fossil fuel companies’ record profits. New polling by Navigator shows that voters aren’t sure who to blame for high gas prices, and are actually nearly as likely to blame environmental regulations for driving up prices as they are to blame corporations for charging excessive prices. However, this dynamic changes significantly when voters hear about the record profits being made by companies like Exxon, Chevron, and Valero. This shows that the public doesn’t know much about the record profits being recorded by oil companies, and these record profits are a powerful proof point to use to direct blame at corporate polluters - whether you’re communicating about gas prices or other problems that these companies are responsible for.
- Electric grid expansion remains overwhelmingly popular. Data for Progress finds that voters widely support building new high-voltage power lines, including in their own communities, and also want to streamline the processes to approve interstate power lines. With Congress again considering permitting reform, it will require clear messaging from the environmental community to make the public understand the risks of expediting dangerous projects such as fossil fuel infrastructure. At least when it comes to measures to speed up the expansion of the electric grid specifically, voters are inclined to see permitting reform as necessary and beneficial.
GOOD DATA POINTS TO HIGHLIGHT
- [East Palestine / Rail Safety] 89% of voters support strengthening regulations on railroad cars carrying liquefied natural gas (LNG) and other dangerous substances [Data for Progress]
- [East Palestine / Rail Safety] 81% of voters support updating trains to electronic braking systems [Data for Progress]
- [East Palestine / Rail Safety] 69% of Americans say that Ohio Governor Mike DeWine should issue a formal disaster declaration for the East Palestine chemical spill [The Economist + YouGov]
- [East Palestine / Rail Safety] 63% of Americans say the government should set more limits on the transportation of hazardous materials through populated areas [The Economist + YouGov]
- [East Palestine / Rail Safety] 58% of voters, including majorities from both parties, say there are too few safety precautions for railroad companies that transport hazardous materials [Data for Progress]
- [Inflation Reduction Act] Voters support the Inflation Reduction Act by a nearly three-to-one margin (68% support / 23% oppose) after reading a brief description of it [Navigator]
- [Clean Energy] By a greater than two-to-one margin, voters would rather increase funding for clean energy research and development (42%) than cut funding for it (18%) [Data for Progress]
- [Issue Priority] More Americans name climate change and the environment as the single “most important issue” to them than any other issue aside from inflation/prices, health care, and the economy/jobs [The Economist + YouGov]
The Economist + YouGov
We’re now starting to see polling about the East Palestine train derailment, and The Economist and YouGov find that the East Palestine disaster has broken through to the public: nearly half of Americans (46%) say that they’ve heard “a lot” about the train derailment, and only 15% haven’t heard anything about it.
The poll also finds that Americans understand the incident primarily as a failure by Norfolk Southern, and possibly a systemic problem as well, but don’t put much blame on workers.
Here are the percentages of Americans that believe each of the following possible causes deserve “a lot” of blame for the incident:
- The rail company that owns the train - 58%
- A lack of government regulations - 41%
- The U.S. Department of Transportation - 33%
- The government of Ohio - 19%
- The workers on the train - 19%
Additionally, the poll finds bipartisan support both for issuing a formal disaster declaration in Ohio and for putting more limits on the transportation of hazardous materials:
- 69% support Ohio Governor Mike DeWine issuing a formal disaster declaration, including majorities from every partisan affiliation (72% of Democrats, 63% of independents, and 74% of Republicans)
- 63% support the government setting more limits on the transportation of hazardous materials through populated areas, including majorities from every partisan affiliation (73% of Democrats, 57% of independents, and 59% of Republicans)
Data for Progress
After the East Palestine train derailment, voters support several measures to improve railroad safety - including stronger safeguards for the transportation of liquefied natural gas (Article, Topline)
Data for Progress has also released some timely polling related to the East Palestine issue and broader rail safety issues.
Like The Economist and YouGov, Data for Progress finds that voters understand East Palestine as a failure at the corporate level: when asked to choose the single most responsible cause for the disaster, 49% of voters blame Norfolk Southern.
Meanwhile, just 10% or fewer blame any other specific actor such as the U.S. Department of Transportation (10%), the Democratic Party (7%), Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (5%), the train conductor (5%), or the Republican Party (4%).
The poll also finds that voters tend to feel that railroads are under-regulated when it comes to transporting hazardous materials. The majority of voters (58%) say there are too few safety precautions for railroad companies that transport hazardous materials, while 24% say there are about the right amount of precautions in place and only 4% say there are too many safety precautions in place.
This is an area where partisans on both sides support stronger government regulation, as majorities of Democrats (62%) and Republicans (54%) both agree that there are “too few” safety precautions for railroad companies that transport hazardous materials.
Accordingly, the poll finds overwhelming support for several measures to strengthen rail safety and prevent future disasters like East Palestine - including regulations on the transportation of hazardous substances like liquefied natural gas (LNG) and proposals to support rail workers:
- 89% support strengthening regulations on railroad cars carrying liquefied natural gas (LNG) and other dangerous substances
- 89% support setting higher standards for maintenance and inspection on railroads
- 86% support placing limits on the length and weight of freight trains carrying hazardous substances
- 81% support upgrading trains to electronic braking systems
- 80% support ensuring that all railroad workers receive paid time off for sick leave and other needs
- 71% support giving rail workers a more flexible schedule
- 68% support increasing the salaries of railroad workers
Data for Progress
More new polling from Data for Progress this week finds that voters are eager for the type of electric grid expansion that will be necessary to connect new clean energy projects to the grid.
Three in four voters support building new high-voltage power lines in the United States (75% support / 14% oppose), and majorities also say that they support building new power lines in their state (74%) and in their own community (72%).
With talks over permitting reform heating up in Washington, it’s important to note that voters are much more enthusiastic about building and expediting transmission projects than new fossil fuel projects.
After learning that the permitting process for interstate power lines takes about 10 years on average, voters overwhelmingly support reducing the amount of time to approve new interstate power lines (72% support / 17% oppose). Additionally, roughly two-thirds support giving the federal government the authority to approve new interstate power lines (66% support / 23% oppose).
And while clear majorities of voters want to build new power lines, including in their own communities, this isn’t the case for new fossil fuel projects: a little more than half of voters still support building oil, gas, and coal infrastructure such as pipelines, fracking wells, and power plants in the United States (55% support / 35% oppose), but voters are divided on whether they’d support new fossil fuel infrastructure in their own community (50% support / 41% oppose).
Navigator’s latest polling finds that voters are still feeling the sting of high gas prices, but need a bit of a push to direct their blame at the oil companies that are responsible.
More than three-quarters of voters (78%) say that gas prices have gone up in their area over the last few weeks, even though average gas prices declined slightly in February. And when asked who they blame for high gas prices, only about one-third (33%) say that corporations’ excessively high prices are most responsible. Another one-third of the electorate blame foreign government conflicts that are driving up the price of oil (33%), while nearly three in ten (28%) say that “domestic policies, like environmental regulations” are most responsible for driving up costs.
However, the poll shows that basic information about oil companies’ record profits is powerful at redirecting blame for high gas prices toward these companies. In a split-sample experiment, half of poll respondents read the following information before being asked who they blame for high gas prices:
“Gas prices have been at record highs in the last year. In the last year alone, Exxon made $55.7 billion, a company record; Chevron made $36.5 billion, doubling their 2021 profits; and Valero made $11.6 billion, 866% higher than the previous year.”
Respondents who saw the information about oil companies’ record profits were far more likely to blame high gas prices on corporations that are charging excessive prices (45%) than to blame them on environmental regulations (26%) or foreign conflicts (22%).
Navigator also finds that support for the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) remains high - though few are hearing about it. Voters support the legislation by a nearly three-to-one margin (68% support / 23% oppose) after reading a brief description of the IRA, but only 15% say they’ve heard “a lot” about it.
Accordingly, IRA supporters need to continue to invest in public education about the bill and its clean energy components in order to build support for their implementation.
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