Polling exclusive: Vast majority in Pa. clueless about this critical political controversy
A new poll shows that Pennsylvania voters are largely oblivious about the commonwealth's central battle between economic and climate concerns.
The survey — conducted by The Bullfinch Group in Washington, D.C., and paid for by the nonprofit Commonwealth Foundation — finds that just 14% of residents say they've heard anything about the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Entry to this program has for years been a major policy battle between business-minded conservatives and environmentally focused progressives in Harrisburg, including former Gov. Tom Wolf.
Polling also found a 46% plurality feeling that Pennsylvania will be in worse shape a year from now.
Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative
Erik Telford, senior vice president of public policy for the Commonwealth Foundation, said he was somewhat surprised by the lack of awareness on the greenhouse gas initiative, frequently referred to as RGGI.
"(It) also underscores the problematic nature of Gov. Wolf entering RGGI through executive order despite the Legislature's opposition," Telford said. "The Legislature did vote against RGGI, but without a veto-proof majority."
Pennsylvania's 2019 admission to RGGI remains tied up in Commonwealth Court amid a legal challenge from political opponents, labor groups and energy interests.
RGGI's tax-and-cap program would decrease the commonwealth's CO2 emissions by between 97 and 225 million tons by 2030, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Nearly a dozen other states in the region are already members of the initiative, which proponents frame as critical in combatting climate change. Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Virginia and Vermont.
While The Bullfinch Group poll shows that nearly half of Pennsylvanians (47%) favor joining RGGI, enthusiasm declined when asked if they'd be willing to pay higher bills or see statewide job losses as a result of the policy. Most respondents (77%) said their utility costs have risen over the past year, and they cited this as the most pressing issue (59%) on the energy front, with environmental consequences a distant second (16%).
"Their support erodes very quickly as soon as they're educated about the increased electric utility bill costs they will experience under RGGI," Telford said, "as well as the cost to the Pennsylvania economy, up to (tens of thousands of) jobs."
In regard to which energy sources they want to see expanded most, The Bullfinch Group's poll was headlined by solar (62%), wind (55%) and natural gas (54%). No other source topped 50%.
The vast majority (69%) expressed interest in expanding natural gas pipeline infrastructure in Pennsylvania for the purpose of "easing the strain on our electrical grid and reducing our state’s energy costs."
The Commonwealth Foundation cites several studies in their critiques of RGGI.:
- A CO2 Coalition report projecting 22,000 direct job losses from the program.
- A Cato Institute study suggesting that RGGI states are falling behind non-RGGI states in goods production and energy-intensive business industries.
- Research from the Pennsylvania's nonpartisan Independent Fiscal Office showing that RGGI states reduced emissions largely by importing their power sources from non-RGGI states.
President Biden poll question
Polling touched briefly on the national stage as well.
Pennsylvanians were asked about their quality of life under the administration of President Joe Biden. Nearly half (48%) believe it has gotten worse since he took office.
Just 15% say their quality of life has improved since Biden was elected.
Who was surveyed?
In conducting their survey, The Bullfinch Group polled Pennsylvanians between Feb. 7-12.
A total of 600 registered Pennsylvania voters participated. About 93% of them reported casting a ballot in the 2022 midterms.
The Bullfinch Group is not among the dozens of polling outfits that's received a letter grade from FiveThirtyEight, a national polling aggregate site.
Founded more than three decades ago, the Commonwealth Foundation is headquartered in Harrisburg. The organization has pledged to "champion economic freedom and limited government" policies to help Pennsylvanians flourish, Telford said.
Results of this most recent poll, he added, are clear when it comes to what Pennsylvanians value and who they trust to implement regulations.
"(It) shows they believe our elected officials should be driving policy making, as opposed to unelected bureaucrats," he said.
Bruce Siwy is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network's Pennsylvania state capital bureau. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @BruceSiwy.