Support drops sharply among Californians for more nuclear plants

July 27, 2011 9:00pm
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•  But offshore drilling sees surge of support

•  ‘Strongly supportive of … more fuel efficiency and renewable energy’

In the wake of the Japanese nuclear crisis, support for building more nuclear power plants in California has dropped sharply, according to a new statewide survey released Wednesday night by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.

Today, 65 percent of adults oppose building more plants and 30 percent are in favor — the lowest level of support since PPIC began asking the question and a 14-point drop since last July (44 percent in favor).

Californians are more divided on another key question of energy policy: whether to allow more oil drilling off the California coast. With gas prices high — but not as high as the peak in summer 2008 — 46 percent favor more drilling and 49 percent are opposed.

In the year since the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, support for drilling has increased 12 points (34 percent in favor, July 2010).

There is a partisan divide on this question. Today, Republicans (71 percent) are twice as likely as Democrats (35 percent) and far more likely than independents (40 percent) to favor more drilling.

Regional differences also emerge, with residents in the Central Valley (56 percent), Orange/San Diego Counties (52 percent), and the Inland Empire (52 percent) much more likely than those in Los Angeles County (39 percent) and the San Francisco Bay Area (37 percent) to favor more drilling.

More than half of residents who live in inland counties (54 percent) support more drilling compared to 42 percent of those who live in coastal counties.

As the Obama administration prepares to announce new fuel-efficiency standards for the U.S. auto industry, there is much more agreement among Californians on this aspect of U.S. energy policy: State residents overwhelmingly (84 percent) favor requiring automakers to improve fuel efficiency significantly, as do majorities across parties (90 percent Democrats, 81 percent independents, 76 percent Republicans).

"With spikes in gas prices at home and nuclear power failures in Japan, Californians are strongly supportive of policies that encourage more fuel efficiency and renewable energy," says Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of PPIC.

Support is also strong (80 percent) for increased federal funding to develop renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and hydrogen technology. Solid majorities across parties, regions, and demographic groups hold this view.

California policy requires that one-third of the state's electricity come from renewable energy sources by 2020. It gets the support of 77 percent of Californians. What if this policy results in higher electricity bills? Just under half (46 percent) of adults favor it.

Support for state's climate change policy

In a year that has seen both lingering economic distress and extreme weather across the nation, most Californians continue to support the state's climate change policy. Most believe global warming is a serious threat to the state's future economy, with 47 percent seeing it as a very serious threat and 28 percent saying it is somewhat serious.

The principle behind AB 32 — the California law requiring the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 — enjoys majority support (67 percent favor, 21 percent oppose, 11 percent don't know). Most (57 percent) believe that the state government should make its own policies, separate from the federal government's, to address global warming.

The effects of global warming have already begun in the view of 61 percent of adults. This is an increase of 7 points since last July (54 percent) but similar to previous years (61 percent in 2009, 64 percent in 2008, 66 percent in 2007, and 63 percent in 2006).

Another 22 percent say the impact of global warming will occur sometime in the future: 4 percent say it will start within a few years, 7 percent say within their lifetime, and 11 percent say it will affect future generations. Twelve percent say it will never occur.

Across parties, Democrats (69 percent) and independents (62 percent) are far more likely than Republicans (40 percent) to say the effects of global warming have already begun. The view that the effects of global warming have begun is up 10 points among Republicans, up 7 points among independents, and similar to last year among Democrats.

Majority favor state action to cut emissions now

Most adults (58 percent) say California should act now to reduce emissions, while 38 percent prefer to wait until the economy and job situation improve.

How do Californians think action to reduce global warming would affect employment? Nearly half (47 percent) say state action would result in more jobs and 23 percent say it would result in fewer, while 20 percent foresee no change in employment.

"Californians are holding steady in the belief that global warming is underway and threatens the state's future," says Mr. Baldassare. "In the wake of federal inaction on the issue, they strongly support the state's climate change policies. With unemployment high, many also see a potential for job creation."

As to their specific concerns about the effects of global warming, Californians are more concerned about increased severity of wildfires (56 percent), air pollution (48 percent), and droughts (45 percent) than about increased flooding (28 percent). Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than Asians and whites to say they are very concerned about each possibility. Less than half of whites are very concerned about any of these potential effects.

Residents overwhelmingly favor (79 percent) government regulation of the release of greenhouse gases from sources such as power plants, cars, and factories to reduce global warming. But they are more divided on one method to do so that is under consideration in California: a cap and trade system. Just over half (54 percent) favor cap and trade and 36 percent are opposed. One other method, a carbon tax, is somewhat more popular, with 60 percent in favor.

Strong majorities favor several options under discussion at the state and federal level to address climate change: requiring utilities to increase their use of renewable energy (82 percent), industry to reduce emissions (82 percent), and automakers to reduce emissions from new cars (81 percent); encouraging local governments to change the way they plan so as to reduce driving (79 percent); and requiring buildings and appliances to be more efficient (74 percent).

Two-thirds see regional air pollution as a problem

Sixty-six percent of Californians consider air pollution in their region a big problem (29 percent) or somewhat of a problem (37 percent); 33 percent say it is not a problem.

Residents of Los Angeles County (45 percent), the Central Valley (37 percent), and the Inland Empire (28 percent) are more likely than those living in the San Francisco Bay Area (19 percent) and Orange/San Diego Counties (15 percent) to say air pollution is a big problem in their regions.

Asked about regional air quality over time, 44 percent of adults say it has gotten worse in the last 10 years, 23 percent say it has gotten better, and 18 percent volunteer that it has stayed the same.

At the same time, two-thirds of adults are very satisfied (23 percent) or somewhat satisfied (43 percent) with the air quality in their region. A third are very dissatisfied (12 percent) or somewhat dissatisfied (21 percent).

Californians identify vehicle emissions (23 percent personal vehicles, 19 percent commercial vehicles) as contributing the most to air pollution in their region, followed by industry and agriculture (15 percent), population growth and development (14 percent), pollution from outside the area (8 percent), and weather and geography (7 percent).

Half of Californians say regional air pollution is a serious health threat (19 percent very serious, 34 percent somewhat serious, 43 percent not too serious). And 42 percent of adults report having asthma or an asthmatic family member. Residents are divided when asked if air pollution is a more serious health threat in lower-income areas than in other areas in their region (50 percent yes, 45 percent no).

Blacks, Hispanics less satisfied with air quality

Perceptions of air quality differ among racial groups, with blacks and Hispanics having more negative views. Blacks (42 percent) and Hispanics (41 percent) are more likely than Asians (28 percent) and far more likely than whites (19 percent) to say that regional air pollution is a big problem.

Hispanics and blacks (61 percent each) are much more likely than Asians (46 percent) and whites (30 percent) to say regional quality is worse today than it was 10 years ago. And most blacks (59 percent) are dissatisfied with regional air quality; just 6 percent are very satisfied, compared to 12 percent of Hispanics, 18 percent of Asians, and 34 percent of whites. Blacks (36 percent) and Hispanics (26 percent) are more likely than whites (14 percent) or Asians (11 percent) to see regional air pollution as a very serious health threat.

Depending on cars, feeling pain at the pump

A solid majority of Californians (70 percent) who work part- or full-time say they commute by driving alone. Just 12 percent carpool and even fewer take public transit (8 percent), walk (3 percent), or bike (2 percent) to work.

Recent gas price hikes have caused households financial hardship, according to 76 percent. Most (59 percent) report cutting back significantly on driving, a change that is far more common among lower-income Californians (68 percent) than among upper-income residents (47 percent). Blacks (76 percent) and Hispanics (66 percent) are more likely than whites (55 percent) and Asians (54 percent) to say they have reduced their driving.

Across regions, Central Valley and Inland Empire residents (68 percent each) are the most likely to report cutting back on driving, with residents of the San Francisco Bay Area (51 percent) the least likely.

Brown's approval rating at 42 percent

Despite passage of an on-time budget, the job approval ratings of Gov. Jerry Brown (42 percent) and the state legislature (23 percent) are identical to their ratings in May.

When it comes to handling environmental issues, Californians are as likely to be unsure of how the governor is doing (37 percent) as they are to approve (35 percent), with 27 percent disapproving. They are more likely to approve of the way the legislature is handling environmental issues (31 percent) than of the way it is handling issues overall.

Still, more than half of Republicans (59 percent) and independents (54 percent) and a plurality of Democrats (41 percent) disapprove of the way the legislature is handling environmental issues.

About half of Californians (52 percent) approve of President Barack Obama's job performance, similar to March this year (56 percent) and July 2010 (56 percent), but down 13 points since July 2009 (65 percent).

When it comes to handling environmental issues, Mr. Obama's rating (47 percent) is similar to July 2010 (49 percent), but is down 11 points since 2009 (58 percent).

Congress gets a 25-percent approval rating overall and a 25-percent rating on handling environmental issues.

Californians are more likely to trust local government (35 percent) than the state (24 percent) or federal governments (20 percent) to deal with environmental problems.

Methodology notes

The current survey was conducted with funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. It is the 11th survey on the environment since 2000. Findings are based on a survey of 2,504 adult residents reached by landline and cell phones throughout the state. Interviews took place from July 5–19. They were conducted in English, Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese), Korean, and Vietnamese, according to respondents' preferences. The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3 percent for all adults. For the 1,619 registered voters, it is ±3.2 percent, and for the 1,153 likely voters, it is ±3.6 percent.

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