Colorado voters support environmental standards

The State of the Rockies survey on Conservation in the West, recently released by Colorado College, finds that, despite economic challenges, conservation and environmental values are still key issues for Western voters.

Colorado was included among five western states surveyed for the State of the Rockies (SoR) report. The other states included in the poll are Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Though conducted to determine “how views of conservation relate to perceptions of state government, budget issues, and environmental issues,” the findings of the survey may have implications for national politics as an indicator of support for federal environmental legislation.

Designed by a bipartisan team to create a “benchmark assessment of (Western voters’) core beliefs and broad values that relate to conservation,” the SoR report surveyed 2,200 voters in its five-state area. The results almost seem a point-by-point repudiation of key congressional Republican talking points against the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act.

Some of the statistics quoted below vary among the five states, but they nevertheless reveal many shared values. Specific Colorado figures are available in the full report from the State of the Rockies Project website at Colorado College.

When it comes to their environment, the survey found, “Western voters share broad values” that transcend their differing political and economic views. Even the three-in-10 Western voters who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters express “strong support for renewable energy, concern about a variety of conservation problems and a desire to maintain standards for land, air and water,” the report says, “though they tend to be skeptics on global warming and other environmental issues.”

The most fundamental of these shared values is the affection of Westerners for the land. “Voters in these five states are more likely to point to something related to the outdoors — be it mountains, wide open spaces, public lands, clean air or other natural features — as the thing they like most about living in their particular state or the West more broadly,” the survey reports.

The next most important shared value is the ability to participate in outdoor recreational experiences. “Nearly nine in 10(Western voters) say they would prefer spending a day outdoors to spending a day in a city,” according to the survey.

For a majority of voters, access to clean air, clean water, natural areas and wildlife are fundamental Western quality of life issues. Two-thirds of them believe these aspects of life are fragile and need protection.

This sense of stewardship for a fragile environment “appears to play a role in how Western voters respond to a range of environmental issues,” the report says.

For example, two-thirds of Western voters believe “current laws protecting land, air and water should be strengthened, or at least better enforced.”

Even economic incentives of creating jobs by reducing environmental regulation on certain industries like agriculture or construction failed to win support for weakening environmental protections.

“In fact,” the report says, “voters in these five states tend to reject the concept that the economy and the environment are in conflict with one another.” Rather, “they overwhelmingly believe that environmental standards and a strong economy are consistent with one another, rather than having to choose one over another.”

Renewable energy is highly rated as an area of potential job growth by two-thirds of Western voters. Not only do these voters reject the argument that renewable energy is unreliable, in all five states surveyed, respondents favored dramatically increasing the amount of their state’s electricity produced by renewable sources like solar and wind.

Other issues raised in the report include concern for air quality, and support for the EPA requiring reduction of carbon emissions from power plants and other sources.

“One of the most resounding affirmative responses in the survey” the report concludes, “is agreement that ‘even with the state budget problems, we should still find the money to protect’ their state’s land, air and water.”

The bottom line is that Western voters “attach great importance to having clean water, clear air and natural areas and wildlife. Two-thirds view those things as an aspect of life that is fragile and needs to be cared for and protected.”

Despite continuing economic woes, conservation will play a major role in 2012. In fact, it may give Democrats an edge with Colorado voters who believe they can have both a healthy environment and a flourishing economy.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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