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New Poll Finds Powerful Opposition to Mountaintop Removal Mining in the Heart of Coal Country

Appalachians also overwhelmingly support increasing clean water protections
August 16, 2011
Washington, D.C. —

Today, Earthjustice, the Appalachian Mountain Advocates (formerly the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment) and the Sierra Club released a major new poll that surveyed voters in Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee to measure public opinions on the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining and clean water protections. The poll was conducted by Lake Research Partners and Bellwether Research & Consulting between July 25 and 28 and sampled the opinions of 1,315 registered voters.

The poll found that voters oppose mountaintop removal coal mining by wide margins in all four states. This opposition to mountaintop removal—and the decision makers who defend it—exists across party lines.

"The survey data turns conventional wisdom on its head,” said Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Associates. “Not only does it show Appalachian voters opposing mountaintop removal and by wide margins, it also underscores that voters in these states are now treating this as a voting issue, and promise to punish elected officials who weaken clean water and environmental regulations on mountaintop removal."

Here are the major findings of the poll:

A majority of voters in WV, KY, VA, and TN reject mountaintop removal mining:
The number of voters who oppose mountaintop removal dwarfs the number who support it: 57 percent oppose mountaintop removal, and with noticeable intensity (42% strongly oppose), compared to just 20% who support it. Voters who strongly support mountaintop removal mining in these states are a very small minority (at 10%).

In the poll, voters were provided with a brief description of the practice as follows:

“Coal companies in [STATE] mine coal from mountains through a process called mountaintop removal mining where the top of a mountain is removed to extract the coal and waste is disposed in nearby valleys and streams.”

Voters across Appalachia want stronger clean water protections from mountaintop removal mining:
In some of the strongest and most surprising data, the poll reveals intense and broad-based support in the heart of Appalachia for fully enforcing, and even more support for increasing, clean water protections to combat the negative impacts of mountaintop removal mining.

“Fully three-fourths (75%) of Republican voters, and 68% 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 unpopularity of mountaintop removal mining is far-reaching and crosses party lines:
Surprisingly, opposition to the practice crosses typical political boundaries, including 64% of Democrats, 60% of independents and 51% of Republicans.

Voters in all four states mean business:
Those polled are likely to reward public officials who stand strong on clean water protection issues and punish those who act to weaken clean water protections on mountaintop removal mining.

Voters believe environmental protections are good for the economy:
Appalachian voters reject the notion that environmental protections are bad for the economy: 60 percent say they are either good for the economy or they have no impact (40% to 20%, respectively), as compared with only 25% who think they are bad for the economy.

“Elected representatives in Appalachia are out of touch with their constituents,” said Joe Lovett, executive director of Appalachian Mountain Advocates. “The people of Appalachia want to be protected from mountaintop removal mining. They want environmental regulations enforced. But in Congress and statehouses, officials protect special interests instead, working to gut the Clean Water Act instead of enforcing it and strengthening it.”

“We’ve seen the polls that show national disapproval of mountaintop removal mining, but this poll clearly shows that the people in the heart of coal country have had it with mountaintop removal mining,” says Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel for Earthjustice. “The time for this destructive practice is over. The people in Appalachia are making it clear in this poll that they recognize the threats to their health and communities. The Obama administration, Congress, and all of our elected leaders owe it to the people of Appalachia to stop this practice before even more damage is done.”

“Public officials who constantly attack the EPA and advocate for even more mountaintop removal are clearly out of step with the region's likely voters,” said Ed Hopkins, director of the Environmental Quality program at the Sierra Club. “The vast majority of people in Appalachia support strengthening Clean Water Act protections to safeguard their streams and rivers from this destructive and unpopular form of mining. This poll should embolden the EPA to vigorously enforce its new policy on mountaintop removal coal mining. We urge the Obama administration to do more and do it now.”

For more information about mountaintop removal coal mining in the surveyed states, please contact:

Tennessee: Ann League, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment, (865) 249-7488, (865) 617-2451, ann@socm.org

Virginia: Jane Branham, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, (276) 679-7505, jabah2@comcast.net

Kentucky: Jerry Hardt, Kentuckians For the Commonwealth, (502) 614-6637, jhardt@kftc.org

West Virginia: Katheryn Hoffman, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, (304) 658-4224, JRWoodman@frontier.com
Debbie Jarrell, Coal River Mountain Watch, (304) 854-2182, debbiejarrell@gmail.com
Cindy Rank, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, (304) 924-5802, clrank2@gmail.com

The complete poll and the polling firms’ topline memo and findings presentation are available.

Contacts

Liz Judge, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500 ext. 237, cell (970) 710-9002

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.