New Public Polling Research Shows Americans Want Clean Water Safeguards

Though he's only been at it for a few days, new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn't taken long to launch the Republican-controlled Congress on a course to attack many of our basic health and environmental safeguards. At the same time, new public opinion research shows that a strong majority of Americans in five key states support existing protections and many, including many Republicans, favor tougher environmental enforcement.

Among these popular initiatives is a plan that the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers have to curb the pollution and destruction of critical fresh water resources. As I have written about on numerous occasions, the Clean Water Protection Rule developed by EPA and the Corps would restore clear Clean Water Act protection to headwater, seasonal, and rain-dependent streams, wetlands, and other waters. The Act protects waters in numerous ways; to name just a few, companies that store significant amounts of oil near such waters would need to develop spill prevention plans, developers cannot bulldoze protected marshes to build a strip mall without authorization from the Corps and an effort to minimize and mitigate the impact, and states need to develop clean up targets for contaminated waters.

Unfortunately, opponents of clean water protections have launched a fusillade of misleading attacks on the rule, Senator McConnell has indicated that he is going to come gunning for it, and the Republican Congressional leadership has scheduled a rare joint House-Senate hearing aimed at attacking the rule for February 4th.

Against this backdrop, research conducted for NRDC by the bipartisan polling team of Hart Research Associates and American Viewpoint reveals that people in Colorado, Florida, Maine, New Hampshire and Virginia strongly support applying protective regulations to smaller sources of drinking water, which the clean water rule would ensure. Specifically, the headwater and non-perennial streams that the rule would better protect help feed public water systems that supply drinking water to more than 117 million Americans.

When asked whether they support a level playing field for both small and larger waters, people overwhelmingly said they did. In particular, between 73 and 77 percent of respondents in the five states said they strongly or mildly favored such a policy. Even after hearing more detailed arguments for and against the approach, including some claims reflective of the hyperbolic arguments made by opponents, respondents still favored these protections. Their support dropped somewhat, but still included a majority of respondents (it ranged from 51 to 58 percent), and still outpaced opposition by at least 14 percent in each state. More detailed results and information are available here.

If Senator McConnell and other Congressional leaders want to legitimately claim to represent the American people when it comes to clean water safeguards, they'd be well-served to listen to what people are really saying, instead of lining up attacks based on industry rhetoric.