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EarthFix Poll: NW Residents’ Support For Coal Dropping

A new EarthFix poll shows Northwesterners are more closely divided over exporting coal through the region. Pictured: supporters (in green) and opponents (in red) at a hearings on a proposed coal export facility in Washington state last fall.

A new EarthFix poll shows Northwesterners are more closely divided over exporting coal through the region. Pictured: supporters (in green) and opponents (in red) at a hearings on a proposed coal export facility in Washington state last fall.

Katie Campbell

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A new survey finds support for coal export terminals has dropped over the past year among Northwest residents. It also finds support for a region-wide approach to measuring the environmental impact of exporting coal.

A public opinion poll for EarthFix asked Northwest residents how they felt about transporting coal from Montana and Wyoming through the Northwest. That coal would then be exported to Asia. There are now three proposed export terminals in the region.

Credit: Heidi Nielson/GoodWorks

(The above results were to the question: Do you support or oppose transporting coal through the Pacific Northwest and exporting it to other countries from ports in Oregon and Washington?)

Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall (DHM Research) surveyed 483 residents in Washington, Oregon and Idaho from June 14-17. The results: 41 percent support and 36 percent opposed. The 5-percentage-point margin was just beyond the poll’s 4.5-percent margin of error.

This latest level of support is down from the 55-percent backing for coal exports registered in July, 2012 when the identical question was posed by DHM Research for EarthFix of Northwest residents supported coal transportation. That poll found support far ahead of the 27-percent opposition.

“It is typical for opinions to shift,” said John Horvick, a senior associate DHM Research who oversaw both polls. “If we think of think of this as a political campaign, we generally see support for an issue at its peak when the campaign starts – and then for support to erode over time.”

WATCH COAL: The Documentary Wednesday on KCTS Channel 9/Seattle at 7:30 p.m. or on OPB Channel 10/Portland at 10 p.m.

Support dropped the most among the following groups from 2012 to 2013:

  • Women (from 50 percent to 32 percent)
  • People aged 18 to 34 (from between 46-51 percent to 31-34 percent)
  • College graduates (from 56 percent to 38 percent)

Horvick says those groups are generally more interested in environmental topics. Among residents of the three Northwest states, the biggest drop in support came from Washington residents, where support fell by 17 percent points.

Lauri Hennessey is with Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports, an industry-backed group that supports coal terminals. She says she isn’t surprised with the drop.

“The opponents of the project have done a very effective job turning people who follow them out of meetings and doing a lot of media, communications,” she says.

Coal opponents also say they’ve been working hard to convince people that hauling coal through the Northwest for export to Asia is a bad idea. Kerry McHugh is with Washington Environmental Council. She says the more people learn about coal, the more they oppose export terminals.

One other noteworthy topic from the survey: Northwest residents were asked how far the government should go in determining the environmental impact of coal export terminals.

The choices ranged from a global review that looked at climate change to a review of just the communities where the export terminals would be built.

The Army Corps of Engineers is in charge of deciding what to review. It told a congressional panel Tuesday that it will look only where the export terminals will be built.

Horvick says this doesn’t line up with what Northwesterners would like to see. The most popular choice was to review the impact on communities throughout the region where coal would be transported.

“The Army Corps of Engineers has chosen the option that the public is telling us right now is their least preferred,” Horvick says.

Horvick says 40 percent of those surveyed preferred the region-wide assessment.

The survey had a margin of error of 4.5 percent. Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall (DHM Research) is an independent and non-partisan public opinion research and consultation firm based in Portland, Oregon

READ: A portion of the new DHM/EarthFix Survey’s Coal questions and results:

EarthFix Coal Survey Part 1 for Web

READ The 2012 DHM/EarthFix Survey’s coal questions and results:

EarthFix CWA Survey-Final - Coal Only by earthfixteam

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