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Survey: Majority of Americans want government to step up action on climate change

Power plant
Courtesy of Duke Energy
The W.C. Beckjord Station along the Ohio River near Cincinnati. Duke Energy says it plans to close the coal burning power plant in 2015 because updating the plant to meet new environmental regulations would be too costly.

A majority of Americans now say all levels of government need to act on climate change.

That’s one finding from the latest surveyin a series of National Surveys on Energy and Environment.

Sarah Mills is the senior project manager with the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

“For the past decade or so, and even last year, about 70% of Americans say that the government needs to act urgently to address climate change. On the latest survey, in the fall, it was 76%. So that’s where we’ve seen the biggest jump in recent times,” she says.

She says part of that jump could be because the U.S. has announced plans to pull out of the Paris climate agreement.

Mills says 69% of Democrats say the federal government has a great deal of responsibility to act on climate change. That’s compared to 30% of Republicans.

As the report notes, cities and states are now taking the lead on tackling climate change:

The last decade has seen dramatic shifts in how various levels of government in the United States respond to climate change. A decade ago, climate policy was largely driven by states and localities, in some cases working collaboratively on a regional basis. That began to shift between 2009 and 2016. During this time, federal engagement in attempting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions expanded, addressing the electricity, transportation, and energy production sectors, while at the very same time a number of states and localities backtracked on earlier commitments. Yet another shift has occurred in the early stages of the Trump presidency, with aggressive executive branch efforts to reverse relatively new federal regulatory initiatives. The Administration has also hinted at attempts to constrain state authority in some key areas despite public declarations of support for the concept of cooperative federalism that devolves considerable latitude to states for policy design and implementation. This latest federal pivot has been matched with pledges by many state and local leaders to sustain and expand their efforts to lead on climate mitigation, potentially filling any gaps led by federal level retreat. Ironically, states—and now local governments—are once more largely driving U.S. climate policy as the intergovernmental odyssey continues on this issue.

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.
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