- The Washington Times - Monday, May 31, 2004

More Americans prefer healthy wallets over protecting the environment, according to a poll by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy.

Of 1,000 persons polled, 54 percent said that protecting the environment is important, but it is more important to keep the economy growing.

Broken down by groups, 52 percent of men and 55 percent of women agreed, as did 59 percent of senior citizens. Republicans topped the group with 67 percent, and Democrats split 48 percent to 45 percent who said protecting the environment should be a top priority, even if that means higher consumer prices.

Those who identified themselves as environmentalists were almost evenly divided within the 3 percent margin of error, 43 percent choosing the economy to 46 percent preferring the environment.

“This clearly shows Americans don’t buy into the environmental movement’s heavy-handed prescriptions that would force a choice between economic growth and environmental protection,” said Rep. Richard W. Pombo, California Republican and chairman of the House Resources Committee.

“All respondents cared about the state of the environment and identified certain environmental concerns. However, with the exception of the self-identified ‘environmentalists,’ and even there by a very small percentage, every group — Republicans, Democrats, seniors, women, etc. — chose economic growth over higher prices from environmental protection,” Mr. Pombo said.

However, Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth, blamed the question for the results and said the economy should not be pitted against environmental issues.

“It poses a false choice, yet every pollster runs that dumb question,” Mr. Blackwelder said.

“If you chop down all your forests and just put it into pulp and paper in one year, what have you got left in the future?” Mr. Blackwelder said. “We advocate energy choices that save us money and make us healthier because that includes all of the costs and all of the benefits, and if you don’t do that, you are getting a very distorted view and I think those questions are not meaningful.”

The poll also asked who is trusted most “as a source of information about environmental issues,” President Bush or Democratic presidential contender Sen. John Kerry.

While 26 percent said they trust Mr. Bush “a lot,” only 12 percent said Mr. Kerry. However, 35 percent said they do not trust Mr. Bush “at all,” while 24 percent said they do not trust Mr. Kerry “at all.”

Mr. Blackwelder called the numbers “astonishing” and credited Mr. Bush’s high numbers to creative language.

“You get initiatives that actually weaken the Clear Air Act called ‘Clear Skies’ and you get initiatives that increase logging of forests that are promoted under the heading of ‘healthy forests’ and the fact is it’s a handout to the timber industry on public lands,” Mr. Blackwelder said.

As for Mr. Kerry’s numbers, Mr. Blackwelder said, “I can’t fathom why because he has a strong environmental voting record.”

Of the total polled, 44 percent labeled themselves as environmentalists, and of the total polled who own a sport utility vehicle, 44 percent identified themselves as environmentalists.

The top concern among those polled was jobs and economic growth at 90 percent; followed by the price of gas, 89 percent; air pollution, 87 percent; and global warming, 70 percent. Traffic congestion was also a chief concern at 78 percent, and 73 percent said declining open space. However, urban sprawl ranked second to last with 46 percent.

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