The Results Are In (Again): US Voters Like Clean Air

From health care policy to what to do about the deficit, US voters may not agree on much these days. However there’s one thing voters of both political parties as well as independents are in overwhelming agreement on: the Clean Air Act and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are doing a much-needed job and should not be weakened or eliminated. This is good news for the fight against climate change, as EPA enforcement of the Clean Air Act is probably the best tool we have for curbing US greenhouse emissions and reliance on dirty fossil fuels. Conservative lawmakers now trying to strip the Clean Air Act of its power may be playing a dangerous game.

The Clean Air Act, which is enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency, is one of the most important environmental laws in the United States. It has already helped reduce or eliminate problems from acid rain to smog to ozone depletion. Today the EPA is moving toward several new rulemakings to bring pollution regulations in line with the latest health science—something agency is legally required to do. This year, for the first time ever, the EPA also began using the Clean Air Act to reduce emissions that contribute to climate change. Unsurprisingly, members of Congress with ties to the coal and oil industries have launched an attack on the EPA, and are trying to weaken or delay Clean Air Act rules. Now multiple new polls warn such efforts could prove wildly unpopular with voters.

At the beginning of this month the Natural Resources Defense Council released a poll showing 77% of Americans support the EPA and dislike the idea of Congress interfering with the Clean Air Act. Support for clean air clearly spans party lines with 61% of Republicans agreeing EPA authority should be left intact. In fact 63% of poll respondents said the EPA should be doing more, not less, to protect public health and reduce pollution.

But lest you think data from a single survey isn’t enough to be convincing, the American Lung Association recently conducted a poll of its own that largely agrees with the earlier one. To gauge whether anti-Clean Air Act rhetoric is having an effect on voters, the American Lung Association poll presented pro and con arguments designed to mirror those of both political conservatives and progressives. The results show respondents overwhelmingly agree with progressives who want to uphold and strengthen the Clean Air Act: fully 68% answered that Congress shouldn’t stop the EPA from enforcing critical clean air rules.

In an age of polarization and divisive political rhetoric, there are probably few issues where the public is in such solid agreement than on the need to uphold the Clean Air Act. Voters see this law, which has been wildly popular ever since it first passed, as an essential tool for reducing pollution and fighting climate change. All the political spin and clever messaging of lawmakers who want the EPA out of the way has been unable to change that fact.

The time has come to accept what should be an unsurprising reality: Americans just like clean air.

Photo credit: "James" on Flickr