New CNN survey shows again that most Americans oppose mountaintop removal coal mining

August 11, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

There’s a new public opinion survey out this morning from CNN and ORC International that concludes:

Fifty-seven percent of respondents in a CNN/ORC survey released Thursday say they oppose the controversial mining process, in which a mountain is blasted apart and the debris deposited in nearby valleys.

CNN has more details about the poll posted here, and of course the survey was done and is being released in conjunction with “Battle for Blair Mountain,” the big, hour-long CNN piece that’s scheduled to be broadcast on Sunday night.

The survey involved telephone interviews with 1,009 adult Americans conducted on July 18-20. The margin of error, based on their sampling size is 3 percentage points.

Those who were interviewed were asked:

As you may know, companies that mine coal sometimes use a practice known as “mountain top removal.” Under this practice, a large portion of a mountain which contains coal is removed to allow the mining company access to the coal, and the soil and rock from the mountain is deposited in nearby valleys. Do you favor or oppose mountain top removal?

The results: 57 percent said they oppose mountaintop removal; 36 percent said they favor it; and 7 percent had no opinion.

In CNN’s article about the poll, West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney was quoted questioning the results:

I think you have to spend some time explaining that mountaintop mining is authorized by federal law, has been for years.

Of course, Coal Tattoo readers know that the CNN poll results generally match those that have been found in other public opinion surveys on this issue. We had a good summary of previous polls, with links to stories and results, in the comments section of this Coal Tattoo post.

Recall the words of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd:

It is also a reality that the practice of mountaintop removal mining has a diminishing constituency in Washington. It is not a widespread method of mining, with its use confined to only three states. Most members of Congress, like most Americans, oppose the practice, and we may not yet fully understand the effects of mountaintop removal mining on the health of our citizens. West Virginians may demonstrate anger toward the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over mountaintop removal mining, but we risk the very probable consequence of shouting ourselves out of any productive dialogue with EPA and our adversaries in the Congress.

Here’s a preview of the CNN show:

25 Responses to “New CNN survey shows again that most Americans oppose mountaintop removal coal mining”

  1. Enviro says:

    I understand the purpose and use of such surverys, but you still have to ask yourself how such a survy that suggest that most Americans are opposed to something is supposed to guide the nation’s policy.

    Most Americans are opposed to gay marriage.

    Most Americans want lower taxes.

    Most Americans are Christian.

    Most Americans are opposed to having debt.

    The list goes on and on.

    Who is surprised that Americans that don’t live directly in an area or with an issue have a view of that issue that may be in conflict with what is in the best interest of that area regarding that issue?

    I am opposed to the traffic congestion and smog of New York. Does that mean that I should sue New York to achieve that end or lobby Congress to that end even though I live in another state?

    Regardless my personal view of moutaintop mining, I get a bit unconformtable for a bunch of individuals from the Northeast and West Coast dictating how and what occurs in Appalachia.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly times when what occurs in one area of the nation (or world) affects how others live in another area. None the less, I think we have to be careful with throwing around polls on this specific issue.

  2. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Enviro,

    I’ll avoid a discussion of the other issues you mention, especially since you offer no evidence to support your sweeping statements about them … and this is a blog about coal — not those other things.

    But keep in mind that:

    1. We don’t know where the people surveyed live;

    2. Most polls of West Virginians have shown that most West Virginians oppose mountaintop removal as well; and

    3. While we don’t vote up or down on single issues nationwide, there’s nothing wrong with having a part of the discussion an examination of what the collective view of the American public is on any particular issue.

    I would add that the significant traffic problems and large numbers of vehicles being driven in larger metro areas in our country are an important matter for all of us: Their emissions contribute to global warming in a very real way.

    Ken.

  3. PJD says:

    Ken,

    If I may digress a bit to make a clarification, it should be pointed out that most New Yorker City residents use public transportaition walk to a lot of their daily destinations, so and on average have carbon footprints somewhat smaller than West Virginians.

    And, of course, MTR in West Virginia is hardly a local issue. Where does the polluted runoff and seepage from the valley fills go? It affects quality of water used by tens of millions, all the way down river to the Gulf of Mexico.

  4. Enviro says:

    I am not opposed to polls. I am just cautious about how those are used to form public policy.

    It is a fine balance between on the one hand having a majority rule and having the majority imposing its will upon the minority. That is a tension of governing that has always been true and one that requires measured leadership and wisdom in discerning what is right.

    Further, polls don’t always assume an informed public. That’s why we “should” have elected officials to lead with wisdom and discernment.

    If we took a poll as to whether the majority of Americans were in favor of paying less taxes, I am pretty sure the vast majority would say yes. At the same time however, a likely majority of Americans would be in favor of improved Government services. And the majority of the Americans polled would not make the connection between the two.

    Finally, so are you advocating that we should sue the Northeast for its mobile source emissions ? After all, they sued the Midwest and South for their stationary source transport emissions. Turn about is fair play as they say.

  5. Enviro says:

    PJD,

    At a local level, there are clear water quality concerns related to surface mining, just as there are with any other localized source of pollutants.

    However, there is no evidence of surface mining causing any impacts in the Gulf of Mexico. Nutrients might be another matter, but not ions associated with surface mining. The evaluation of public water supply data within Appalachia and along the Ohio River watershed clearly indicates that.

    There are some TDS concerns in the upper portions of the Ohio River watershed that appear to be developing as a result of Oil and Gas operations within the Marcellus Shale of New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, but that isn’t surface mining.

    That said, yes, there are localized water quality impacts with surface mining.

  6. Vickie says:

    Enviro does raise an interesting point. I have wished that we had an initiative process in WV because, since polls have shown WVians to be opposed to mtr by a significant margin, the initiative process could be used to ban it (when I lived in OK, it was one of three states in which cockfighting was still legal, and it was banned via the initiative process). But the initiative process can be abused, as it has been in CA. History is rife with examples of subversion of minority rights (and it still occurs, e.g. in the case of gays), and it would have been worse if we lived by majority rule.
    I don’t think we need “to be careful with throwing around polls” on this or any issue; generally, the more we know, the better off we are, and that goes for knowledge of public opinion. Knowledge of public opinion CAN be used in forming public policy, but it doesn’t have to be, because obviously sometimes “the public” is wrong; e.g. didn’t “the majority” oppose civil rights?

  7. Back to the upcoming CNN report airing on Sunday, I urge you to watch it for many reasons. ( I was able to see an advance copy of the program) Soledad O’Brien does a very good job carefully looking at many angles of the coal issue, of the mountaintop removal issue. She is fresh, very different from say, Diane Sawyer; O’Brien is friendly when she calls people out on some of the outrageous lines they say, in an effort to get to the real facts. “God meant us to take that 3 foot seam of coal on the top of that mountain,” says one gentleman, as if tearing down mountains was a divine intervention. She asks, “Really?? Really?!”

    Just like Bill Haney’s film, The Last Mountain, with RFK Jr, the CNN piece goes to great lengths to suss out each “side” and as a result is very fair. Very fair, giving both “sides” their say.

    It is especially great to hear EPA Administrator Jackson speak so eloquently and with such care and compassion.

    Environmentalists point to the profit the coal companies reap off our mountains, what exactly do the people want? Clean air, clean water and justice.

  8. Vernon says:

    The “best interest of that area (MTR areas)” is to ban MTR, in my opinion and that of others who live here, and increasingly backed up by scientific studies. While this poll is interesting and may demonstrate that we are educating a significant number of Americans about MTR, it won’t drive public policy any more than previous polls have. What should drive policy is the evidence of the very severe negative impact MTR has on our health and communities, and taking our rights to clean air and clean water into account. According to a Gallup study of 1,000 people per day for 3 years, the three congressional districts with the most MTR are the ones with the worst well-being. That is something that Rep. Rahall and his neighbors in KY and VA should pay attention to, but for some reason they don’t.

  9. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Vernon,

    You wrote: “According to a Gallup study of 1,000 people per day for 3 years, the three congressional districts with the most MTR are the ones with the worst well-being.”

    Do you have a link?

    Ken.

  10. William says:

    While the national poll reaffirms what everyone already knew, it really would be interesting to see a poll of all the counties where MTR takes place (in all states, not just West Virginia). My hunch is that, despite what the Friends of Coal people will tell you, the percentage opposed to MTR would actually be higher in these counties then in the nation as a whole.

    It would also be interesting to see the same poll done for all strip mining, not just MTR.

  11. Vernon says:

    Here’s the link, for 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/06/weekinreview/20110306-happiness.html
    I guess they’re tallied every year. There was also something posted about it on ilovemountains.org.

  12. William says:

    Another thing to remember is that people living in the rest of the country do actually have a legitimate interest in how coal is mined here, because they are the customers of West Virginia coal. Theoretically, consumers have the ability to vote with their dollars and not buy products that they don’t want. That is not the case with coal – when you turn your light on you have no ability to choose between electricity produced by strip-mined coal, deep-mined coal, solar power, wind power, etc. This is probably one of the reasons why people in the northeast and elsewhere have such a strong interest in MTR. As this poll shows, the coal industry is forcing a product on consumers that they don’t want. Keep this in mind when talking about the “market-value” of MTR-mined coal – a product that nobody wants has no value, regardless of how cheaply it was produced.

  13. William says:

    PS – When I wrote “legitimate interest” I meant “direct interest.” Caring about human rights, mountains, poverty, cancer, wildlife, etc. are all legitimate interests too.

  14. CA Native says:

    Only 57% opposed MTR? Before participating in the survey, did CNN/ORC educate people, or did they simply ask “are you for or against mountain top removal coal mining?”

    If the surveyor said, “there’s this avoidable thing happening that’s decimating one of the oldest ecosystem in the world, and studies have found it causes higher rates of cancer, higher forms of chronic heart disease, heart attacks, lung disease, and kidney disease,” what kind of person would ever say they were in support this avoidable thing?

  15. Casey says:

    The poll question seems misleading in that it indicates that all of the rock and soil from the mountain is deposited in the valley. Soil is not allowed in the valley and regs require all material to be placed back that can be.

    I’m not sure how that may change the poll result but certainly most citizens are in need of education regarding how all of the products and services that they demand on a daily basis are related to extraction industries.

  16. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Casey,

    Where does it say in the regs that “soil” cannot be placed in the valley fill? Is that in the federal or the state program?

    Also, I’m not sure that your summary — that all material must be “placed back that can be” is an accurate description of what the regs actually say. Could you point me to where that is in the regs, or quote the specific language?

    Thanks, Ken.

  17. John says:

    U cannot dump soil in a valley fill it is a federal law you will be fined it has to be 90% rock

  18. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Folks,

    Let’s please try to stay on topic … comments not related to the post at hand won’t be published. Ken.

  19. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Casey and John,

    Yes, you can dump soil into a valley fill … it’s incorrect to say you can’t. There is simply a limit on how much.

    30 CFR 816.73 states:

    “The excess spoil consists of at least 80 percent, by volume, durable, nonacid- and nontoxic-forming rock ( e.g., sandstone or limestone) that does not slake in water and will not degrade to soil material. Where used, noncemented clay shale, clay spoil, soil or other nondurable excess spoil materials shall be mixed with excess durable rock spoil in a controlled manner such that no more than 20 percent of the fill volume, as determined by tests performed by a registered engineer and approved by the regulatory authority, is not durable rock.”

    The rule allows 20 percent, by volume, to be non-durable … and this rule applies only to so-called “durable rock fills” not to valley fills/head of hollow fills covered by 816.72.

    So I’m not sure how the CNN question was inaccurate.

    Ken.

  20. bluecanary says:

    I think it’s crucial to remember that regardless of what the law says, it’s meaningless if it’s not enforced, and we have seen that there are many (not all, of course) coal companies who don’t seem to care what the law says they can’t dump into our waterways.

    I am usually pretty skeptical of public opinion surveys, but I think the question they asked was pretty fair.

  21. Nanette says:

    Just because an activity such as MTR happens within WV boundaries does not mean that the pollution stay here. It does affect people in other states. Look at the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. All the pollution from the mining areas go downstream. Not to mention the air pollution from the coal from this area that is burned in other states. Remember the lawsuits from other states where the acid rain was killing forests in their states? People know about MTR. We have had many people traveling this country educating people about this abominable practice and how it affects lives here in the coalfields.

    I think this poll is very relevant, and I do believe that if that poll was taken here in this valley the response would show that most of the people are opposed this kind of mining. The NMA can make all the excuses they want, we in the coal fields all know that what they say is just a lot of hot air.

  22. Casey says:

    Ken, My statement was closer to the truth regarding AOC requirements and highly engineered durable fills than the misleading poll statement of “and the soil and rock from the mountain is deposited in nearby valleys” which misleads the reader into believing that 100% of the rock and soil goes into the valley. My point is that an inaccurate picture is painted with the question, in my opinion.

    http://www.wvcoal.com/MTM/valley-fill-construction-basics.html

  23. Observer says:

    Lets try this again.

    I guess my my thought process with the CNN poll is since a majority of Americans disapprove of MTR do you outlaw it?? If you outlaw it, does that raise energy prices? I think the answer is yes.

    That is where this poll comes into place.

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/146651/Expanding-Energy-Output-Trumps-Green-Concerns.aspx

    “Americans, by 50% to 41%, say the nation should prioritize the development of energy supplies over protecting the environment when the two goals are at odds.” These polls seem to be at odds.

    Polls are done every day that get results that the buyer wants. It all starts with leading questions. This poll provides a nice “talking point leading up to “Battle for Blair Mountain.”

    Yes Ken, there are other nice points in the Gallup poll (fossil production vs solar/wind and conservation vs new fossil production). They didn’t seem to be on point, so I didn’t discuss them.

  24. William DePaulo says:

    Back to square one, the poll is instructive on the point that a significant majority (57 to 36) oppose mountain top removal.

    I agree with the observation above that the question, as posed by the surveyors, could not have been more uninformative, i.e., it describes the process with all the detachment of a mortician. If the rest of the country could see what is visible to the naked eye on Kayford Mountain, I believe the opposition would be much, much broader.

    The flip side may also be true that the results would be reversed if the survey asked: “Do you want to pay much higher electrical costs just to keep some hills in Appalachia in their pristine condition?” and left out all of the adverse consequences.

    The more important point is that both inside the state and outside, there is a significant majority, not merely a plurality, but a very significant majority that opposes MTR.

    Does that mean we should ban it, based solely on the survey results? Not necessarily. But it does suggest that the effort to portray MTR opponents as environmental radicals is misplaced, badly misplaced.

    One might fairly ask why, if so many people oppose this practice, it is allowed to continue. To which it is fair to respond that our political leaders are unduly influenced by coal money.

    And the outstanding recent example of this reality is the disclosure – only because of the specific disclosure requirements of the US Senate – that Joe Manchin, our former governor and recently elected senator, made more than a million dollars in one year, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in the only other year covered by the disclosure form – from a family-owned, coal “brokerage” company.

    This disclosure has not resulted in a ground swell of public opinion demanding Manchin’s resignation. And maybe it shouldn’t. He was elected by the voters, and that’s how he should be held accountable.

    And the same goes for MTR itself. Let’s have an honest, up or down vote by the people, including those who make a million dollars a year from it. But they should like us, have only one vote.

  25. Steve says:

    Lets be real here. Mining today is done (underground and surface) with possibly two thirds less people than lets say thirty five years ago. I know, I was there. We mine more coal today than we did thirty five years ago because of technology, both on the surface and underground. We do mine it much cleaner today and we process it much cleaner today than we did thirty five years ago. I know, I was there. Do any of you remember what Coal river and Kanawha river looked liked in the late 50’s and 60’s? I do, and they are much cleaner today. The air is much cleaner today than it was thirty five years ago. Do any of you remember when companies alger striped hollows? They would cut in so far and remove the coal and dump the overburden right over the hill side where they mined. I do, and you can still see remnants of it in Boomer hollow. How much water flows from abandoned underground mines that must be treated with chemicals (forever) before it enters streams? Possibly thousands, and those are only the ones we know of! We have probably covered more stream, killed more salamander, cut through more mountain putting a four lane between Charleston and Williamson than all the strip mines in Boone and Logan counties combined. All so a few can get from Logan to Charleston twenty five minutes faster. Where was the outrage? I will wait and pass judgement on this documentary after I view it, but the time to save Blair mountain should of came when the UMWA was its strongest, about the time all the above was going on.

Leave a Reply