Front Porch Blog

BREAKING: New Poll Finds that Appalachian People Strongly Oppose Mountaintop Removal

Controversial Appalachian politicians promoting mountaintop removal are in the vast minority in their own states

Joe Lovett, as he is known to do, says it best:

There is unfortunately a fundamental disconnect between what voters want and what our elected officials are giving us…We think that our Representatives, like Rahall and Capitom should be urging EPA to strongly enforce current law, rather than trying to weaken it.

A new poll conducted by two bipartisan firms shows overwhelming support for ending mountaintop removal within the Appalachian states of KY, TN, VA, and WV. The poll was commissioned by the Appalachian Mountain Advocates (formerly “Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment)”, EarthJustice, and the Sierra Club, and sampled more than 1300 likely voters, oversampling in WV and KY, and has a margin of error of just ±2.8%. These organizations are releasing the complete poll to the public, and you can find the full cross-tabs are here. Without description, voters oppose mountaintop removal 38%-24%. Given a brief description of mountaintop removal, likely Appalachian voters oppose the practice 57%-20%. This announcement comes on the back of a national poll released by CNN last week, showing that Americans across the country strongly oppose mountaintop removal (57%-36%).

The results are astonishing in that Appalachian voters clearly differentiate between coal mining (which they strongly support 61%-21%) and mountaintop removal (which they strongly oppose 57%-27%). These are not “out of state hippies” or “anti-coal activists.” These are the Appalachian people, who clearly understand that mountaintop removal is a unique form of coal mining that has unprecedented negative impacts on our region, and needs to end. In fact, when asked if they supported increasing Clean Water Protections to protect ourselves from mountaintop removal, voters responded with an astonishing 78% supporting an increase in Clean Water Act protections and just 9% opposing.

The support for the Clean Water Act is both deep and wide. According to the pollsters’ memo:

Support for [increasing protections in—the Clean Water Act to safeguard streams, rivers, and lakes in their states from mountaintop removal coal mining] is far-reaching, encompassing solid majorities of Democrats (86%), independents (76%), Republicans (71%), and Tea Party supporters (67%).

Our movement to end mountaintop removal and increase protections within the Clean Water Act is working, and has strong popular support not just across the country, but across all political lines and all geographic lines. This new poll confirms that voters across the Appalachian region feel just as strongly about protecting the Clean Water Act, and protecting our mountains.

But of course, you’ve noted a lot of Appalachian politicians saying just the opposite…

Throughout the last two years, Democratic Congressman Nick Rahall (WV-03) has made promoting mountaintop removal his #1 issue in Washington. Time, after time, after time the Congressman has fought Congressional and Administrative efforts to protect Appalachian citizens from the impacts of coal, joining the most radical elements of our Congress in calling regulation of mountaintop removal , and gleefully ignoring the flood of new peer-reviewed scientific studies showing horrific health impacts to his constituents. After the 2010 elections, Rahall was joined in Congress by Senator Joe Manchin, whose defense of mountaintop removal has been equally verbose, and perhaps even more willfully ignorant.

Other coal-state politicians have shown a desire to bend over backwards to the demands of a radical and shrinking regional coal industry. This includes Republican Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul of Kentucky, Senator Rockefeller of West Virginia, Representatives Shelly Moore Capito and David McKinley of West Virginia, and Morgan Griffith of southwestern Virginia.

They’ll all be disappointed to know that most of their constituents, including a majority of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents oppose ending mountaintop removal, while even 67% of tea party supporters support increasing protections within the Clean Water Act. Not only that, but those who want more protections from mountaintop removal are more likely to help them make a decision in the voting booth.

It sure does make Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who supports ending mountaintop removal, look awful smart.

There is hope yet for Rahall and his Congressional comrades. He has known for a long-time that the writing is on the wall for mountaintop removal. Just two short years ago he said:

The state’s most productive coal seams likely will be exhausted in 20 years. And while coal will remain an important part of the economy, the state should emphasize green job development. That is especially important as pressure against mountaintop mining increases. Pressure is coming from both Republicans and Democrats. During the 2008 presidential race, Republican nominee John McCain came out in favor of ending mountaintop mining. It’s something that’s evolving over time in our industry and the responsible segment of our industry realizes that.
– Congressman Nick Rahall (D-WV-03), 04-02-09

This was, of course, before he learned that these words upset Don Blankenship, and went on a full-court press to promote mountaintop removal and eliminate the few citizen protections that re currently in place. Thanks to our friends at Appalachian Mountain Advocates, EarthJustice, and Sierra Club, we now know that Nick Rahall can feel free to express what he already knows – we must protect his constituents and end mountaintop removal. And he can do it knowing that West Virginia Democrats, West Virginia Republicans, and even West Virginia Tea Party members support increasing Clean Water Act protections regarding mountaintop removal.

Raised on the banks of the Tennessee River, JW's work to create progress in his home state and throughout Appalachia has been featured on the Rachel Maddow Show, The Daily Kos and Grist. He served first as Appalachian Voices’ Legislative Associate and then Tennessee director until leaving to pursue a career in medicine in 2012.

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