December 14, 2016

Most Americans favor stricter environmental laws and regulations

Crews clean oil from the beach at Refugio State Beach on May 20, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from a nearby pipeline. Photo by David McNew/Getty Images
Crews clean oil from the beach at Refugio State Beach on May 20, 2015, north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from a nearby pipeline. Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

More Americans say environmental regulations are “worth the cost” than say such regulations come at too steep a price, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. These views come amid speculation about what President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees may mean for future regulatory policy.

A majority of U.S. adults (59%) say stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost, compared with roughly a third (34%) who say such regulations cost too many jobs and hurt the economy, according to the survey, conducted Nov. 30 to Dec. 5.

Education level and age are both associated with perceptions of environmental regulations. Younger adults and those with more education are more likely than older adults and those with less education to say stricter environmental laws are worth the cost.

Opinion also differs across party lines. Nearly eight-in-ten Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (78%) see stricter environmental laws as worth the cost, while a majority of Republicans and Republican leaners (58%) say stricter environmental regulations cost too many jobs and hurt the economy. 

Similar partisan divides were evident in a Pew Research Center survey on views of climate change conducted in spring. On the question of power plant carbon emissions, for example, 76% of liberal Democrats said restrictions can make a big difference in addressing climate change, while only 29% of conservative Republicans agreed. Likewise, 71% of liberal Democrats said an international agreement to limit carbon emissions could make a big difference on climate change, while only 27% of conservative Republicans said the same.

Environmental regulation has gained attention since November’s election. Trump has said he would nominate Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, of which he has been a vocal critic. His team also announced that Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who once favored eliminating the Department of Energy, would be nominated for energy secretary. And Trump said in an interview that “nobody really knows” whether climate change is real. Trump’s skepticism on climate science reflects the views of many conservative Republicans, according to the Center’s October report on the politics of climate.

While a majority of U.S. adults favor stricter environmental regulations, these views can vary by state, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey. Those living in states with relatively high per capita incomes, as well as those living in states that voted for Barack Obama in 2012, are more likely to support stricter environmental regulations than those living in states with lower per-capita incomes and with Republican voting patterns. For example, a majority of residents in Maryland and the District of Columbia – which have high per capita incomes and voted for Obama – say environmental regulations are worth the cost, while residents in the more Republican and lower-income states of Alabama and Kentucky are less likely to agree.

Topics: Energy and Environment, Domestic Affairs and Policy, Political Attitudes and Values, Business and Labor, Political Polarization, 2016 Election

  1. Photo of Kristen Bialik

    is a research assistant at Pew Research Center.

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous8 months ago

    We must start respecting our planet . Our water is dirty. We are fracturing our planet . It’s time to change and we need someone who can improve our energy without destroying our planet, water, and solar wind is a great start. Please place someone in this position who Will respect instead of poison our earth. We are caretakers. We must put the health of the people above the greedy. It’s time we focus on achieving a better system. Earth is worn down from poisoning and fracturing. Please give us some one who is a forward thinker who Will place the earth and its inhabitants first instead of their pockets. It’s time. We can’t drink our water .. consider new ways of living and caring for what is right ..