CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Appalachian residents support strengthening Clean Water Act restrictions on mountaintop removal and would punish at the ballot box public officials who work to weaken strip-mining regulations, according to a new poll released Tuesday.
Three-quarters of those surveyed in a four-state poll voiced support for "fully enforcing" or even increasing federal safeguards for streams, according to the poll, commissioned by a coalition of environmental groups.
Residents in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia have favorable views toward coal companies and toward mining in general, but they oppose mountaintop removal by wide margins, the poll found. Opposition to mountaintop removal -- and politicians who support the practice -- is strong across party lines.
"The survey data turns conventional wisdom on its head," said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, whose Lake Research Associates conducted the survey in consultation with the Republican firm Bellwether Research & Consulting.
Coalfield political leaders, especially Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., have been pushing efforts to remove Clean Water Act protections that give the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency supervision over state permitting of mountaintop removal mines.
In the four states polled, 48 percent of those surveyed said they are less likely to support an elected official who favors weakening environmental regulations on mountaintop removal. Forty-eight percent of those polled also said they are more likely to vote for elected officials who support strengthening such rules.
"Fully three-fourths of Republican voters and 68 percent of tea party supporters in this survey support increasing Clean Water Act protections from mountaintop-removal coal mining," said Christine Matthews, president of Bellwether Research & Consulting.
"Even in these economically stressed coal-country states, there is overwhelming support for increasing clean water safeguards -- a far cry from disarming the EPA, as some on the national stage have suggested."
The poll was conducted for the organizations Appalachian Mountain Advocates (formerly the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment), Earthjustice and the Sierra Club. Overall, the survey reached a total of 1,315 likely voters in the four states, and included oversamples in Kentucky and West Virginia. The survey was conducted July 25-31. The margin of error for the full sample was plus or minus 2.8 percentage points; the error margins for individual state and other subgroup results were higher.