If you listen to the infighting over energy in Washington, D.C., you would think that a healthy economy and a healthy environment are mutually exclusive. It took a study out of the Rockies to reveal that is simply not true.
The Salt Lake Tribune recently reported that a poll of voters in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming and Montana shows that citizens think they can have good jobs while not sacrificing the environment. The poll surveyed 2,200 voters in the five western states. Two firms joined forces to conduct the poll. One of the firms had Democratic ties while the other has ties to Republican clients.
As for the results, they are telling. About 70 percent of those polled said they feel clean water, air, natural areas and wildlife are fragile aspects of life in their states that could “change if not perfected.” A larger number of respondents said that a clean environment is compatible with a strong economy, “without having to choose between one or the other.” Perhaps most noteworthy was that about half of those questioned in the poll said they would be willing to pay $10 more per month to increase the share of energy coming from renewable energy.
The findings in these polls fly in the face of common arguments. One of the most common arguments against having cleaner standards for energy production and open spaces policies was that the cost of implementing these policies would be handed over to John and Jane Taxpayer. (Other arguments include the premise that a clean environment in which toxic coal ash, for example, is regulated and the secret sauce used in natural gas fracking isn’t so secret, would be bad for business.)
These are wonderful arguments that have been framed by lobbyists, industry-backed political action committees and the senators and representatives whose campaigns cash their checks. But this poll shows that Western voters, who often sit on the front lines of the energy/environmental debate, aren’t buying the arguments contrived by special interests. The problem is that special interests are buying the senators and representatives — on all levels.
Senators from Wyoming and Utah have taken extreme anti-environmental positions in Congress. While Colorado’s senators are more green, the Rocky Mountain state has much less clout inside the Beltway because Michael Bennet and Mark Udall are relatively new to the political game. Montana has gone completely haywire in recent weeks, with one state senator claiming that climate change is good for the state. And down in New Mexico, Jeff Bingaman’s successor will have to court environmental voters who have gotten stiffed by their current governor, who hasn’t seen an environmental protection policy she didn't want to destroy.
But elections aren’t supposed to be about money, catch phrases and bogus arguments. They are about voters and the will of the people. This latest poll shows that voters may be smarter than special interest groups and Western representatives think they are.
We don’t have to choose between being green and having green in our wallets. We can do both in America. You don’t have to believe me, but elected officials should probably believe the voters who gave them their jobs.