Florida poll: More than 7 in 10 voters concerned about climate change, back EPA action plan

Nearly eight in 10 likely Florida voters want limits on carbon pollution from power plants and as many as 71 percent say they’re concerned about climate change, according to a new poll conducted for an environmental group during the hotly contested governor’s race.

“The takeaway from this poll is simple: People think carbon pollution is a problem, and they think our political leaders should take action and fight pollution,” said Susan Glickman, a spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which sponsored the 1,005-likely voter poll by SurveyUSA.

The survey’s timing has both a policy and political dynamic:

• It gauges voter sentiment on a range of environmental issues, including opinions about a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency draft rule limiting carbon emissions, which the poll says 59 percent strongly favor.

• It’s an election year in which Republican Gov. Rick Scott faces former Gov. Charlie Crist, a believer in man-made climate change due to carbon emissions. A separate SurveyUSA poll this week indicated Crist leads by as much as 5 percentage points, but a Quinnipiac University survey at the same time found the race essentially tied.

Scott, who once said he didn’t believe in man-made climate change, now won’t comment on the matter, saying only that “I’m not a scientist.”

In response, a group of climate scientists recently asked to personally meet with Scott. After initially demurring, Scott said through spokespeople that he’d soon meet with the researchers himself. No date has been set.

Crist met with one of the climate scientists, FSU oceanography professor Jeff Chanton, at the Florida Press Center on Friday in Tallahassee. On his way there, though, Crist flew on the private jet of a developer once fined for pollution in the Panhandle — a fact that helped the Scott campaign pillory Crist for conducting a “publicity stunt” that backfired.

Crist, pointing out that Scott has his own private jet, fired back by saying Scott is hiding from the issues of the day and won’t talk about what matters to people, like climate change.

The NRDC poll, however, doesn’t specifically address a core political controversy over climate change: whether voters believe it’s driven by man-made carbon emissions.

Asked about the severity of climate change, 47 percent of the respondents said it was “very” serious and another 24 percent said it was “somewhat” serious. Taken together, it indicates 71 percent of likely voters find it’s a serious issue, compared to 27 percent who indicate it’s not that big of a deal.

Compared to Democrats and independents, Republicans are the least concerned about the issue, with 53 percent saying it’s serious and 45 percent saying it really isn’t. Republicans are evenly split when it comes to being most or least alarmed, with 26 percent saying it’s a very serious issue and another 26 percent saying it’s “not serious.”

While Scott isn’t comfortable discussing his views on climate change, he mentions the accomplishments of his administration when it comes to spending money to clean Florida’s natural springs, its reservoirs and the waters in the Florida Keys.

“We’ve done a lot on the environment. I’ve made it a priority,” he said last week when asked if he’d meet with the climate scientists.

“If you stop and think about it, we’ve had a historic settlement on the Everglades, which had been in litigation that had gone on for decades,” Scott said. “And my likely opponent has done none of these things when he was governor. He made none of these things a priority.”

Crist did make environmental projects a priority, and set in motion an Everglades land-buying program, but it was greatly reduced in scope. He also presided during the recession, when the state budget shrank and environmental projects were less of a priority than funding schools, healthcare programs and courts.

By contrast, with the economy booming during Scott’s term, the state budget is larger than ever, $70.1 billion, and has something for nearly every special interest this election season.

“I noticed that my opponent, Rick Scott, would not meet with this wonderful scientist,” Crist said at the press conference, adding that Scott “was not going to meet” with Chanton until “I accepted the opportunity to do so. It makes a great statement about the two different views of the world by the two of us, myself and Rick Scott.”

Regardless of who spent what or who met with whom, 60 percent of the SurveyUSA respondents said the state should do more to prepare for climate change, 24 percent said the state has done enough and 16 percent aren’t sure.

Under the draft EPA rule, the state faces deadlines under President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which requires states reduce greenhouse gas emissions from future and existing power plants by specific levels by 2030.

It’s these draft rules, which amount to about 2,000 pages, that 59 percent of voters say they strongly favor in the poll. Eighteen percent “mildly favor” them. That brings the total support to as much as 77 percent. Meanwhile, 7 percent “mildly” oppose and 13 percent “strongly oppose” them, bringing total opposition to 20 percent.

In the poll, 81 percent said they want Scott’s administration to conduct an open and transparent process; 10 percent said no. And by 78-16 percent, voters in the poll said power-plant carbon pollution should be reduced.

By asking about carbon “pollution” instead of carbon “emissions,” the poll might reflect a greater sense of concern by the public.

Critics of the scientific consensus over climate change or the Obama administration’s plans are sure to point out that the poll didn’t ask voters about the potential out-of-pocket costs that could result from raising the cost of carbon products, such as coal, natural gas or gasoline.

Those who want to combat climate change say not limiting carbon will become more costly in the end, leading to faster-rising seas or problematic weather events.

Asked what concerns them most about climate change, 30 percent said rising seas, followed by stronger storms (27 percent), flooding (14 percent) and higher temperatures (12 percent). Everglades, coral reefs and drought each ranked in the single digits.

About 25 percent of respondents said the carbon-reduction plan should be prioritized to produce the lowest costs; 34 percent want it to target reducing pollution and 38 percent want it aimed first at renewable energy sources.

Nearly half — 48 percent — said they’d prefer to use solar power; 22 percent favored natural gas first; 10 percent wanted nuclear power; 8 percent chose wind, and 5 percent opted for coal.

As for how the state should meet the carbon-reduction rules, renewable energy is the most favored, receiving 54 percent support. It’s followed by natural gas (22 percent); energy efficiency (15 percent) and nuclear power (6 percent).