Survey Says: Bipartisan Voters Nationwide Support the Clean Air Act, Oppose Congressional Interference

(February 16, 2011)

The people have spoken. Just one day before the U.S. House of Representatives votes on a bill that would severely impact the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to protect public health from air pollution, the American Lung Association has released a new bipartisan survey examining public views of EPA’s updating and enforcing clean air standards.

The national survey finds that likely voters support the Clean Air Act and have sharply different opinions than the Members of Congress who are working to limit EPA’s authority to update and enforce air pollution standards, including on carbon dioxide.

What is the proposed House of Representatives Bill, and what impact will it have?

The results of the survey are timely, as the U.S. House of Representatives is preparing to vote on a proposed funding bill, H.R. 1, for the federal government for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2011.  The House has proposed cutting the EPA’s budget by one third, which will drastically impact the EPA’s ability to save lives and improve the health of children, older adults, and millions of other Americans by protecting the public health from air pollution. H.R. 1 specifically prevents the EPA from enforcing or issuing rules under the Clean Air Act to address carbon pollution. Amendments have been filed to block updating air pollution health standards and the cleanup of toxic air pollution, including mercury from industrial facilities. In addition, several pieces of separate legislation are under consideration that would block the EPA from implementing the Clean Air Act.

What are the survey results?

Three out of four voters support the EPA setting tougher standards on specific air pollutants, including mercury, smog and carbon dioxide, as well as setting higher fuel efficiency standards for heavy duty trucks. Exposure to air pollution causes thousands of premature deaths and asthma attacks and millions of dollars in healthcare costs.

Sixty-eight percent of voters oppose Congressional action that impedes the EPA from updating clean air standards generally and 64 percent oppose Congressional efforts to stop the EPA from updating standards on carbon dioxide.

Even after a balanced debate that included the language used by supporters of Congressional action to limit the EPA, a 60-percent majority continues to support the EPA on carbon dioxide regulation.

Other key poll results indicate the level of concern expressed by voters regarding their right to breathe healthy air:

  • 69 percent think the EPA should update Clean Air Act standards with stricter limits on air pollution;
  • 68 percent feel that Congress should not stop the EPA from updating Clean Air Act standards;
  • And a bipartisan 69 percent majority believe that EPA scientists, rather than Congress, should set pollution standards.

What does this mean?

“Despite the strong attacks on the Clean Air Act coming from Congress and industry, it’s clear that the public values measures to protect public health,” said Paul Billings, vice president for national policy and advocacy at the American Lung Association. “Voters clearly recognize and respect the role of the EPA in protecting their families from breathing toxic air, and they don’t want Congress to interfere with the EPA’s authority to take action when lives are clearly at stake.”

In a memo to the American Lung Association, the conductors of the poll—Mike Bocian and Andrew Bauman of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, and Jon McHenry and Dan Judy of Ayres of McHenry and Associates—concluded: “The survey clearly indicates that voters strongly trust the EPA to deal with clean air standards more than Congress. A bipartisan 69 percent majority believes that EPA scientists, rather than Congress, should set pollution standards. This is despite opposing language arguing that our elected representatives in Congress would do a better job than ‘unelected bureaucrats at the EPA.’”

The survey also tested messages currently being used in Congress around action that would prevent EPA from updating air pollution standards. Half of all respondents heard balanced messages about updating clean air standards, while the other half of survey respondents were asked balanced questions about carbon pollution. In both instances, majorities of at least 60 percent said that Congress should not stop EPA from updating these standards, including Independents by a two to one majority. The survey demonstrates that when it comes to protecting EPA’s ability to update and enforce clean air standards, Independents and moderate voters are more in line with Democrats and liberals.

 “The Clean Air Act has had strong bipartisan support for the past 40 years. In 2010 alone, enforcing the Clean Air Act is estimated to have prevented 160,000 premature deaths,” continued Billings. “We are deeply concerned that the U.S. House of Representatives’ proposed spending cuts – as well as various legislative proposals already introduced – will roll back the progress we’ve made to protect the health of American families.”

The full survey, along with slides and a memo from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Ayres, McHenry and Associates, can be found here.

CLICK HERE to take action by contacting your members of Congress and asking them to oppose this proposed funding bill.