New poll shows overwhelming support for climate action as Congress weighs big infrastructure bill

The recent evolution of the oil industry’s political stance on a carbon tax has raised a few eyebrows, but it represents more greenwashing, according to Holly Burke of Evergreen Action.

SOURCEDesmog Blog

Americans support the steps taken by the Biden administration thus far to tackle climate change by large margins, according to a new poll. The widespread support comes as the White House and the U.S. Congress gear up for a major push on a roughly $3 trillion infrastructure proposal, which could potentially mark the most ambitious push on climate action ever attempted in the U.S.  

The new poll finds that in significant numbers Americans view climate change as an immediate threat, and by a two-to-one margin (60 percent agree versus 29 percent disagree), Americans say that “climate change is already having a serious impact on my part of the country.” 

The poll surveyed 1,010 registered voters and was conducted by Global Strategy Group (GSG), a Washington, D.C.-based communications firm. The poll was conducted on behalf of Accountable.US, a D.C.-based nonpartisan watchdog group, and Climate Power, an independently run project created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Sierra Club.

Specific executive orders on energy and climate change also proved popular, despite a PR campaign by the oil industry to tarnish some of those moves. By a 25-point margin, Americans supported rejoining the Paris climate agreement and by a 39-point margin they favor the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps to train and employ America’s youth for jobs in conservation. The most popular move by President Biden in the poll was his executive order to conserve 30 percent of public lands and coastal waters by 2030, with 65 percent in favor and only 18 percent opposed. 

But the oil and gas industry has not targeted those popular climate measures, and instead has launched a PR blitz against select executive orders that affect where and when companies can drill. For example, the American Petroleum Institute (API), the country’s largest oil and gas lobbying group, said that the Biden administration’s pause on new drilling leases on federal lands would cost “nearly one million jobs,” despite ample evidence that the industry is sitting on a surplus of leases that could take years to use up. 

The drilling pause on federal lands has emerged as the largest source of irritation for the oil industry. API and affiliated trade associations at the state level in Texas, Louisiana, and New Mexico held multiple press calls to attack the policy in the days after the executive order was announced in January. The attacks appeared in national media outlets, such as the Washington Post, regional newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, and international press such as Reuters, among others. The attacks were also repeated by many industry allies in Congress.

Despite the publicity onslaught, the pause on drilling on federal lands garnered 46 percent in favor and 35 percent opposed, according to the GSG/Accountable.US/Climate Power poll. In addition, Americans supported temporarily halting drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by a 25-point margin (52 percent to 28 percent). Only President Biden’s executive order canceling the Keystone XL pipeline was in negative territory, with 40 percent opposed compared to 37 percent in favor. 

However, after poll respondents were exposed to statements from both API and environmental groups to further draw out voter opinion, several of the executive orders picked up even more support. For example, while the pause on drilling on federal lands scored a +11-net favorability initially, after respondents were prompted with statements from both API and environmental groups taking opposite sides of the issue, public support improved to a +17-net favorability. And the cancelation of Keystone XL moved into positive territory, going from -3 to +6 after hearing talking points from both API and environmental groups. 

“People are seeing right now in their homes and in their communities that clean energy is a job creator, clean energy is great for their community. And I think that is part of what is starting to dilute these fossil fuel industry lies and attacks,” Holly Burke, a spokesperson for Evergreen Action, told DeSmog, commenting on the new polling. Evergreen Action was set up by former staffers on the presidential campaign of Washington Governor Jay Inslee along with other policy experts to push for national climate action in the new administration. They were not connected to the GSG/Accountable.US/Climate Power poll. 

Years ago, when renewable energy was still in its infancy and climate impacts may have seemed a bit more abstract, attacks on climate action by the fossil fuel industry packed a bigger punch, Burke added. That is no longer the case. “People can see with their own eyes. Those lies become so much less effective when people actually see what this looks like on the ground,” Burke said, referring to the rapid growth of renewable energy.

The API did not respond to a request for comment from DeSmog.

Overall, the poll results show strong support for an array of policies to address climate change. “Those results are very consistent with our own studies,” Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, told DeSmog. He pointed to a December 2020 poll conducted by Yale and George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication that also showed overwhelming support for climate action among Democrats, Independents, and even Republicans. 

For instance, that Yale/George Mason University poll found that four in five respondents supported an expansion of renewable energy on federal lands, while even more aggressive and contentious policies such as a carbon tax and 100 percent clean electricity mandate by 2035 garnered 67 percent and 66 percent support, respectively. More than half of respondents said addressing global warming should be a “high or very high priority for the president and Congress.”

$3 Trillion Infrastructure Bill 

The significance and the timing of these polling results come just as the Biden administration and the U.S. Congress are working on a massive $3 trillion infrastructure bill. The details and the political strategy remain in flux, but in addition to conventional infrastructure such as roads and bridges, the proposal would funnel tens of billions of dollars into clean energy, energy-efficient housing, electric vehicle charging stations, improvements to the electric grid, water infrastructure, and more. 

Close up view of a Volt electric car being charged

Electric Car Charging Station
 Credit: Open Grid Scheduler/Grid EngineCC0 1.0

The proposal may also include hundreds of billions of dollars to improve education, child care, and addressing environmental injustice, although the details remain to be seen. Biden has previously endorsed transitioning to 100 percent clean electricity by 2035. 

Poll after poll shows that large-scale investments are politically popular. Evergreen Action and Data Progress came out with their own polling in March that echoed a lot of the same findings as the GSG/Accountable.US/Climate Power poll. Across multiple polls, the support for climate action spanned the political spectrum, with Independents and Republicans favoring many of the provisions. 

The most popular proposal in the Evergreen Action/Data for Progress poll was federal investment for upgrades to water infrastructure, which attracted 88 percent in favor, with only 8 percent opposed. But other ideas were also immensely popular, such as the creation of a Climate Conservation Corps (+61 net favorability) and a G.I.-style bill to retrain fossil fuel workers for a new economy (+60 net favorability). 

On March 22, representatives from 10 oil and gas companies including ExxonMobil, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, and ConocoPhillips, among others, along with three industry lobby groups including API, met with White House National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy where they emphasized their support for a carbon tax. 

The recent evolution of the oil industry’s political stance on a carbon tax has raised a few eyebrows, but it represents more greenwashing, according to Holly Burke of Evergreen Action. “[I]t’s an opportunity for corporate polluters to rehab their image publicly by pushing for something that they may already be confident isn’t going to happen,” Burke said in a follow-up email to DeSmog. “It’s clear they’re concerned about an administration and a Congress that seems willing to put in place real standards to limit the amount of carbon pollution they can emit.”


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