In Suit Against Clean Power Plan, States May Not Be "Closer To The People"

Twenty-six states have joined a lawsuit against the federal government to stop its Clean Power Plan (CPP), which requires states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions two percent a year. Oral arguments are scheduled to begin in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals on September 27.

It is often said that states are closer to the people than the federal government, but are the states that are party to this suit really representing the majority of their voters? A new in-depth survey, conducted by the University of Maryland's Program for Public Consultation, reveals that even with balanced information about the plan, two-thirds of the voters living in the states suing the government actually favor the Clean Power Plan, only slightly less than the seven-in-ten who favor it nationally.

As part of the survey, respondents went through a 'policymaking simulation' in which they were told about the projected increases in the costs of electricity (up to three percent in the short term), and the potential negative effect on jobs and economic growth. But they were also told about the reduced negative health effects of air pollution such as asthma and heart attacks, as well as the reductions in greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. On balance, they favored the deal.

Respondents also evaluated pro and con arguments before coming to their conclusions. All the content of this 'Citizen Cabinet' survey was vetted by both Republican and Democratic congressional staffers and other outside groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, before it was fielded, to ensure the information was accurate and the strongest arguments were presented on both sides. The survey was conducted with a representative sample that included 4,394 registered voters nationally and 2,308 in the states that are suing.

Support for the plan is broad but not fully bipartisan. In the states suing the government, 88 percent of Democrats favor the plan, while 45 percent of Republicans approve.

However, if efforts were made to mitigate the effect of the CPP on coal workers and the coal industry, support increases to a large bipartisan majority - 60 percent among Republicans, 94 percent among Democrats, and 77 percent overall. The most popular approach is to help coal workers who lose their jobs (overall 67 percent of voters, Republicans 54 percent, and Democrats 78 percent). However, the idea of subsidizing carbon sequestration to make coal more viable did not win majority support.

The CPP is central to the commitment the United States made at the UN climate conference in Paris, to reduce its greenhouse gases about two percent per year. As this new report also shows, in the states suing the government, seventy percent of registered voters approve of participating in the agreement. Among Republicans 50 percent approve (though 59 percent said the agreement is at least tolerable), while Democrats overwhelmingly approve (88 percent).

If you are wondering what you would conclude, if you were given the best arguments on both sides, you can now go through the same policymaking simulation that the survey respondents did and then share your recommendations with your Congressional representatives. To start, click here.

So, whatever is driving these states to oppose the CPP, it does not appear to be a majority of their voters.

Steven Kull is director of the University of Maryland's Program for Public Consultation and president of the nonpartisan group, Voice Of the People, which seeks to give the public a greater voice in government.