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Beyond Deepwater: Energy & The Environment

by Scott Bittle

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

Surveys are showing that the longer the Deepwater spill goes on, the less the public likes offshore drilling but in that case, where does the energy debate go from here?

That's a key backdrop to the maneuvering around an energy bill, and a Senate vote today on whether the EPA should be allowed to regulate greenhouse gases like other pollutants. It's safe to say the public isn't focused on those questions: the spotlight is instead on the frustrating news out of the Gulf of Mexico.

It's perhaps no surprise that support for offshore drilling has fallen from 62 percent in 2008, after gas prices hit $4 per gallon, to only 40 percent now, according to a CBS News poll. An ABC/Washington Post survey found support for more drilling dropping from 64 percent last August to 52 percent now.

More surprising, however, is the change in how people see the broader tradeoff between energy and the environment. Since 2007, as energy prices rose, a Gallup poll found more people favoring energy production over environmental protection. It's also pretty typical for people to favor economic concerns in general over the environment during a recession. As recently as March, Gallup found 50 percent who said finding more energy should be a bigger priority, compared to 43 percent who said protecting the environment should be the priority. By May, that had changed to 55 percent who said the environment should be the priority, and 39 percent who favored production.

So what now? The fundamental energy challenge is that the United States, and the world, will need both more energy and cleaner energy. Surveys, including our own research, suggest there are strong areas of public consensus for a new energy policy. But will we grasp onto them? To join the discussion, check out Who Turned Out The Lights? Your Guided Tour to the Energy Crisis and our energy issues Facebook site and Twitter feed.


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