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Study: Where Californians Stand on Environmental Issues

by Michael Higham, published

Environmental issues expand beyond the debate on global warming. Important components to the issue include air pollution, energy policy, and methods to curtail the output by emitters. The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) conducted a comprehensive survey which detailed Californians' stances on environmental issues. The survey can be found here in its entirety.

The survey delves into government ratings, policy preferences, and regional differences as well as party stances regarding environmental policy. The centerpiece for environmental policy in California is Assembly Bill 32 (AB32). AB32 is a comprehensive law established in 2006 to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions.

One original feature of the law is the cap-and-trade system. The system sets emissions caps for companies and must be complied with by January 2013. The trade component allows those under the cap to auction the remaining emissions to others wishing to go beyond the cap. Auctioning emission permits will begin in November of this year.

While this brand-new law is set in motion very soon, 57% of Californians are unaware of cap-and-trade. When respondents were briefed on the cap-and-trade system, 53% were in favor. Along party lines, support from Independents/Democrats/Republicans are at 44/55/32 percent.

The theory behind cap-and-trade to reduce emissions is not only in the cap. By requiring emission permits to be bought, it is supposed to motivate companies to look for more cost-effective ways to comply with the cap. There is concern that companies in low-income areas will be the main buyer of permits. If this is the case, environmental conditions might worsen disproportionately. Forty-eight percent of Californians believe the cap-and-trade system will do so.

Every environmental issue is interconnected and air pollution is a large problem in the eyes of Californians. The survey reports that 64% see air pollution as a problem and 49% say that it poses  serious health risks. This shouldn't be a surprise. California alone ranked 17th in global green house gas emissions in 2006. As for policy solutions, 65% support stricter emission standards on passenger vehicles. While the support is a majority, PPIC says it's the lowest since they began surveying. Stricter emission standards on diesel fueled vehicles and commercial/industrial activity saw higher support at around 70 percent.

"California’s likely voters trust Obama over Romney on global warming policy by a wide margin—even though a majority also say that the federal government is not doing enough to address this issue," President and CEO of PPIC Mark Baldassare concluded.

Of the Independents surveyed, 53% favor President Obama and 37% supported Governor Romney for the 2012 Presidential election. Only 1% of Independents surveyed are looking to support a third-party candidate. In the survey's totality, 51% favor President Obama and 40% favor Governor Romney. The gap widens when asked who to trust on environmental issues alone, showing a 54 versus 33 percent respectively.

Governor of California Jerry Brown was also factored into the survey. Brown's overall approval rating and environmental work approval are at 42% and 39% respectively. Brown is a strong activist on environmental issues and his long record can be found on his official website

This is only scratching the surface on California environmental issues. PPIC provides detailed analysis of their many findings and the survey will help dig deeper into the environmental issues of California and the country.

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