Poll Finds NW Residents’ Support For Coal Eroding

Jun 19, 2013

Credit Courtney Flatt / Earthfix

A new survey finds support for coal export terminals has dropped over the past year among Northwest residents. It also finds support for a region-wide approach to measuring the environmental impact of exporting coal.

A public opinion poll for EarthFix asked Northwest residents how they felt about transporting coal from Montana and Wyoming through the Northwest. That coal would then be exported to Asia. There are now three proposed export terminals in the region.

DHM Research surveyed 483 residents in Washington, Oregon and Idaho from Friday through Monday.

John Horvick is with DHM Research. He says last year 55 percent of Northwest residents supported coal transportation. Now, 41 percent of residents support it.

“It is typical for opinions to shift," Horvick says. "If we think of think of this as a political campaign, we generally see support for an issue at its peak when the campaign starts – and then for support to erode over time.”

Export terminals still have more supporters than opponents. Thirty-six percent of Northwest residents now oppose coal transport. That’s up from the level of opposition measured by last year’s D-H-M survey for EarthFix. But the new poll still shows supporters outnumber opponents to coal export terminals.

Lauri Hennessey is with Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports, an industry-backed group that supports coal terminals. She says she isn’t surprised with the drop.

“The opponents of the project have done a very effective job turning people who follow them out of meetings and doing a lot of media, communications," she says.

Coal opponents also say they’ve been working hard to convince people that hauling coal through the Northwest for export to Asia is a bad idea. Kerry McHugh is with Washington Environmental Council. She says the more people learn about coal, the more they oppose export terminals.

One other noteworthy topic from the survey: Northwest residents were asked how far the government should go in determining the environmental impact of coal export terminals.

The choices ranged from a global review that looked at climate change to a review of just the communities where the export terminals would be built.

The Army Corps of Engineers is in charge of deciding what to review. It told a congressional panel Tuesday that it will look only where the export terminals will be built.

Horvick says this doesn’t line up with what Northwesterners would like to see. The most popular choice was to review the impact on communities throughout the region where coal would be transported.

“The Army Corps of Engineers has chosen the option that the public is telling us right now is their least preferred,” Horvick says.

Horvick says 40 percent of those surveyed preferred the region-wide assessment.

The survey had a margin of error of 4.5 percent.

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