By Ken Ward Jr.
Americans oppose mountaintop removal coal mining by a wide margin, according to the first nationwide poll on the issue to be made public.
A majority of Americans are also against a Bush administration rewrite of a federal stream “buffer zone” rule to allow mine operators to continue burying streams, the poll found. The survey, released Thursday afternoon, mirrors a 2004 poll that found most West Virginians opposed mountaintop removal.
“I very rarely run into people who think that blowing up mountains and burying streams is a good idea,” said Joan Mulhern of the group Earthjustice, which commissioned the poll with the Sierra Club and the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment.
The poll was conducted for the groups by Lake Research Partners, whose president, Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, also did the 2004 mountaintop removal survey in West Virginia.
Researchers questioned 1,000 likely voters across the country between Oct. 11 and Oct. 16. The poll has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
A majority of those surveyed said they believe the environment in the United States is deteriorating.
But by a more than 2-1 margin, voters polled rejected the notion that environmental protections are bad for jobs and business. Forty-seven percent said environmental protections are good for the economy, compared to 20 percent who believe such protections are bad for the economy.
“There is a real consensus on a lot of these fronts,” said Daniel Gottoff of Lake Researcher Partners.
Gottoff’s firm asked half of the voters polled if they favored or opposed mountaintop removal, without giving them any additional information on the subject.
Thirty-nine percent of those voters said they opposed mountaintop removal, compared to 15 percent who said they favored it. Forty-six percent said they were unsure.
The other half of voters surveyed were given a short description that mountaintop removal is “where the top of the mountain is removed to extract the coal and waste is disposed in nearby valleys and streams.”
Sixty-one percent of those voters said they opposed mountaintop removal, compared to 16 percent who said they favored it. Twenty-three percent were unsure.
Opposition to mountaintop removal was strongest in the northeast, where 79 percent of those surveyed opposed it. Opposition in the south — including West Virginia and Kentucky, the two biggest eastern coal states — was 59 percent.
The survey also found that two-thirds of Americans oppose repeal of the stream buffer zone rule, which generally prohibits mining activities within 100 feet of streams.
“These poll results make very clear that people think we should not sacrifice streams by allowing them to be filled in with mining waste,” said Ed Hopkins, director of the Sierra Club’s environmental quality program. “The Environmental Protection Agency can and should protect these streams by stopping the Office of Surface Mining’s plans to gut the stream buffer zone rule.”
This article originally appeared in The Charleston Gazette.