The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Joan Mulhern, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500

Majority of Voters Oppose Mountaintop Removal Mining in First Nationwide Opinion Poll

Voters feel environment deteriorating, oppose push to repeal Stream Buffer Zone rule


In the first nationwide poll on mountaintop removal mining, two
out of three likely voters oppose recent efforts by the Bush
administration to repeal an environmental law known as the Stream
Buffer Zone rule, which prohibits mining activities within 100 feet of
a stream. Upon hearing that "more than 1,200 miles of streams in
Appalachia already have been buried or destroyed by mountaintop removal
coal mining," fully 85% of voters say they are concerned about the
effects of this mining practice.

The practice of mountaintop removal coal mining -- where hundreds of
feet are blown off the tops of mountains to get at thin coal seams, and
the remaining rock and waste is dumped into nearby valleys -- has long
been opposed by many residents of Appalachia. This newest poll, the
first to test voters' views of this practice nationwide, illustrates
that voters in every region of the country are similarly against
mountaintop removal mining.

"Throughout the entire term of the Bush administration, federal
agencies charged with enforcing the law have instead done all they
could to roll back regulations and ignore environmental protections to
allow mountaintop removal mining to continue. But people across the
country recognize what this administration has not: that mountaintop
removal mining is simply wrong," said Joan Mulhern, senior legislative
counsel at Earthjustice. "Voters aren't fooled by attempts to allow
this destruction to continue."

Last week, the Department of the Interior's Office of Surface Mining
(OSM) made the final moves on a proposal to repeal the Stream Buffer
Zone rule, a Reagan-era regulation that prohibits surface coal mining
activities from disturbing areas within 100 feet of permanent and
seasonal streams. OSM is trying to clear the path for more mountaintop
removal mining in Appalachia by allowing streams and headwaters to be
permanently buried with mining waste and "overburden."

The nationwide survey of 1,000 likely voters conducted by two firms,
Lake Research Partners and Bellwether Research and Consulting on behalf
of Earthjustice, the Sierra Club and Appalachian Center for the Economy
and Environment, shows overwhelming opposition to the changes to the
Stream buffer Zone rule. Fully 66% of those polled oppose the repeal of
the protections for streams, with nearly half (49%) who "strongly
oppose" the repeal.

"The level of public opposition to this rule change is remarkable,
until one considers the larger context: even in a tough economy,
Americans see environmental protections as an economic boon by a 2:1
margin," said Daniel Gottoff of Lake Research Partners.

"These poll results make very clear that people think we should not
sacrifice streams by allowing them to be filled in with mining waste,"
said Ed Hopkins, director of Sierra Club's Environmental Quality
Program. "The Environmental Protection Agency can and should protect
these streams by stopping the Office of Surface Mining's plan to gut
the Stream Buffer Zone rule."

"We have known for a long while that residents of West Virginia
oppose mountaintop removal and are against weakening environmental laws
that are meant to protect our mountains, streams, and communities from
this devastation," said Margaret Janes of the Appalachian Center for
the Economy and the Environment. "It is heartening to see now that many
Americans across the country are aware of the enormous destruction
being caused in our region and want to see an end to the practice
before it is too late."

"Americans make it very clear that, despite concerns they have about
the economy and our dependence on foreign oil, they do not want key
environmental protections rolled back for quick, cheap energy
production," said Christine L. Matthews of Bellwether Research and
Consulting. "Voters believe environmental protections -- such as the
Stream Buffer Zone Rule -- are, in fact, beneficial to the economy, and
play a critical role in protecting our water, air, and natural

The poll results showed that:

  • A majority of American voters believes the environment in the
    United States is deteriorating. Fully 55% say the quality of the
    environment has gotten worse in recent years. Another quarter believes
    the environment has stayed about the same and only 18 percent believe
    the environment has improved.
  • By more than a 2:1 margin, voters believe environmental
    protections are good for the economy. Voters categorically reject the
    argument that environmental protections are bad for jobs and
    business -- a common refrain of the Bush administration, as well as oil
    and mining companies. A plurality (47%) believe environmental
    protections are good for the economy and another 23% believe such
    protections have no impact on the economy. Only 20% of Americans
    believe environmental protections are bad for the economy.
  • Two-thirds of American voters oppose the Bush
    administration's effort to repeal the Stream Buffer Zone Rule. Fully
    66% oppose repeal, including roughly half (49%) who "strongly oppose"
    repealing the rule, which for 25 years has protected our nation's water
    resources from toxic debris caused by mountaintop removal coal mining.
    Only two in ten (20%) support the Bush administration's effort to gut
    this critical safeguard (just 8% support it strongly), and another 14%
    are unsure.
  • Opposition to Bush's effort to repeal the Stream Buffer Zone
    Rule is both broad and deep, transcending traditional partisan,
    regional, and demographic divides. Majorities of all political parties
    oppose repealing the rule, as do strong majorities of men (62%) and
    women (69%), college-educated and non college-educated voters (65% for
    each), and voters in all four corners of the country (74% in the
    Northeast, 64% in the Midwest, 64% in the South, and 64% in the West).
  • Finally, voters also report high levels of concern over
    water quality and take a firm stand against further destruction of
    America's streams. Upon hearing that "more than 1,200 miles of streams
    in Appalachia have already been buried or destroyed by mountaintop
    removal coal mining, with another 1,000 miles projected for burial and
    destruction in the next ten years," fully 86% of voters say they are
    concerned about the effects of mountaintop removal, including a 60%
    majority who are very concerned.

Memo detaining the survey findings (PDF)

Information on poll methodology (PDF)

Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.