CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A substantial majority of West Virginians favor a proposal to increase taxes on coal operators to create a long-term fund to help diversify the state's economy, according to a new survey conducted for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
More than two-thirds of those surveyed by Lake Research Associates support the idea of using natural resources taxes for a "future fund," of the sort promoted by the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, a progressive think tank.Sixty-nine percent of those polled support a 1 percent increase in coal taxes, while 19 percent opposed such a move. Seventy percent support setting aside a portion of natural gas taxes for the program, while 12 percent were opposed, according to survey results released Thursday.
Jeremy Richardson, a Union of Concerned Scientists fellow who is studying coal and climate change, said he was surprised by the results -- especially those supporting an increase in taxes on the state's troubled coal industry.
"I thought that was just going to be dead in the water," said Richardson, a West Virginia native from a mining family.
Richardson said that the results support the notion that West Virginians can both support some level of continued coal mining, but also want state political leaders to focus on diversification of the energy sector and the broader economy.
"It's not that people are against the coal industry," Richardson said. "They just want there to be other options."
As part of Richardson's work exploring coal production and ways to create more diverse economic opportunities in West Virginia, the Union of Concerned Scientists commissioned Lake Research, headed by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, to survey state residents about energy issues, environmental matters, and what they'd like the future to look like.
Lake's group surveyed 407 registered West Virginia voters June 12-16. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
The survey results generally reflect broad support for the coal industry, but also backing of measures to reduce pollution, such as strong enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act.
"People support the jobs, but they want to have clean water for their kids," Richardson said.