West Virginia's "wake-up call": Even Republicans want more coal industry regulation

A broad cross section of voters support increased government regulation in the wake of the state's chemical spill

By Lindsay Abrams

Published February 24, 2014 6:58PM (EST)

There's nothing like a major chemical leak knocking out your water supply to make you question whether the government is doing enough to regulate the coal industry. A second, coal industry-related spill turning a river "black like death" only drives home the point.

The vast majority of West Virginians -- across all ages, education levels, incomes and political persuasions -- agree that government should have done more to address environmental threats, according to a poll conducted for the Sierra Club by Hart Research Associates. The survey, which questioned 504 voters, found that most saw January's spill as a "wake-up call" that will influence the way they elect officials in the future. Some of the more intriguing findings:

  • 73 percent of voters think West Virginia wasn't paying enough attention to air and water safety. Among seniors, the consensus reached 82 percent.
  • While 59 percent agree that more regulation could seriously impact the job market, only 30 percent say they'd support a candidate who believes the same -- 62 percent favor a candidate who supports strong regulations and enforcements regardless. Republicans are evenly divided on this point.
  • Over a third of Republicans think the EPA should have stronger standards and enforcement to prevent future spills; a full half think the same of the state Department of Environmental Protection.
  • Seven out of 10 voters are convinced a serious incident like this will happen again unless something's done to prevent it.

Overall, respondents seemed to maintain an uneasy allegiance to the coal industry, and Republicans remained divided on whether they were cool with the EPA butting into state affairs. But 61 percent maintained that the coal industry has too must power, while 58 percent agreed it was time for state elected officials to "stop letting coal industry lobbyists call the shots."

Lindsay Abrams

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Coal Industry Government Regulation West Virginia Chemical Spill