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A majority of Americans want the federal government to do more to protect air and water

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 say the federal government isn’t doing enough to protect air and water quality.

That’s the latest from a national Pew Research Center survey.

The survey found 69 percent of Americans think the government isn’t doing enough to safeguard water quality, while 64 percent say the government isn't doing enough to protect air quality. 

Brian Kennedy is one of the authors of the report. He says they also asked people whether it’s possible to cut back on regulations and still protect air and water.

“On that question, we found a closer division. So 52 percent of Americans said it is possible, versus 48 percent said it’s not possible to cut back on regulations while effectively protecting air and water quality. And on this question, we found a pretty wide political divide," he said. "Most Republicans said it is possible, while a majority of Democrats said it is not possible.”

Two-thirds of Americans said the government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change. 

“On that question, we saw pretty wide political divides between Republicans and Democrats, with Democrats being far more likely to say the government is doing far too little to reduce the effects of climate change,” said Kennedy.

But there was wide bipartisan support for more renewable energy.

“Majorities of both Republicans and Democrats said they supported solar panel farms or wind turbine facilities," he said. "But when it came to fossil fuel sources like offshore drilling or coal mining, we saw a far greater divide between Republicans and Democrats.”

On the question of fossil fuels, though, the researchers found a wide generational divide within the group of Republican respondents.

"With boomers being far more likely than millennial Republicans to say that we should expand these sources of energy," Kennedy explained. "So for example, when it comes to coal mining, 71 percent of Republicans who were in the boomer generation or older said that we should expand coal mining. This compared to 43 percent of millennial Republicans. It’s worth pointing out that Democrats across the board were unlikely to say they favor expanding coal mining; only about one in five Democrats said this.”

Kennedy says the survey found a majority of Americans said reducing dependence on foreign energy sources should be a top priority with 80 percent of Republicans and 61 percent of Democrats in favor.

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