CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginians view the January chemical spill on the Elk River as a "wake-up call" that the state needs a different approach to environmental protection, according to a new public opinion poll conducted for the Sierra Club.
Seventy-three percent of voters polled agreed West Virginia has paid too little attention to addressing threats to air and water, and that the Elk River spill should change that, according to the survey.
Voters of all ages, education levels, incomes and political persuasions agreed, with particularly high agreement -- 82 percent -- among seniors.
"This spill has been a wake-up call for the voters and they want it to be a wake-up call for the politicians," said Geoff Garin, president of Hart Research Associates, which conducted the poll.
Conducted from Feb. 4 to Feb. 7, the survey questioned 504 registered voters in West Virginia. The results of the full sample have a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.
Among other things, the survey found most West Virginians polled do not believe the Freedom Industries spill is an isolated incident. Seven out of 10 voters said serious incidents like the spill would occur unless preventative action is taken.
The survey found West Virginians are concerned about the effect regulations can have on jobs, with 59 percent agreeing regulations could result in companies cutting jobs.
Still, 62 percent of those surveyed said they would be more likely to support a candidate who favors strong regulations and enforcement, more than twice the 30 percent who said they would support a candidate who believes that more regulations will only hurt jobs and the state's economy.
Nearly 9 out of 10 residents expressed concern about the spill, including 44 percent of those polled who said they are "extremely concerned" about it.
More than two-thirds of those polled said stronger regulations and better enforcement of existing regulations would have prevented the spill. Fifty-seven percent said federal and state agencies should have stronger standards to prevent future such incidents.
Sixty-one percent of those polled said the coal industry and other corporate lobbyists have too much power, and 58 percent said it was time for elected officials to "stop letting coal industry lobbyists call the shots."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.