As environmental advocates begin to push an audacious plan to make polluters compensate the state for the ravages of climate change, they are now armed with a poll showing voters want policymakers to be tough with fossil fuel companies.
The Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) released the poll Tuesday, as lawmakers start to consider legislation that would make the 40 largest emitters of greenhouse gases in Maryland pay vast sums of money to the state for environmental degradation.
“For the first time, we’re saying to the fossil fuel industry, if you make a mess, you should come in and clean up your mess. And this is their mess — they’ve known about it for 40 or 50 years,” said Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo (D-Montgomery), the lead House sponsor of the Responding to Emergency Needs from Extreme Weather (RENEW) Act.
CCAN surveyed voters about their attitudes on climate change and the impact it has had on their lives. And the poll probed public opinion on legislative efforts to make polluters pay.
The poll by Gonzales Research & Media Services, conducted Dec. 12-20, surveyed 307 registered voters statewide and another 312 registered voters in legislative District 29, which takes in parts of Calvert and St Mary’s counties in Southern Maryland.
Jamie DeMarco, CCAN’s Maryland director, said District 29 was chosen as a swing district that leans to the right (the state senator is a Republican as are two of the three delegates, who are elected in single member sub-districts).
The first question in the poll asked voters their level of concern about climate change. Almost 72% of those surveyed statewide said they were very concerned or somewhat concerned. Another 27% said they were not too concerned or not concerned at all. Eight-nine percent of Democrats answered the question in the affirmative, as did 39.5% of Republicans and 65.5% of unaffiliated voters.
The next question noted that climate change across the U.S. has an estimated $150 billion price tag, and asked whether voters had been personally impacted by climate change. Forty-eight percent statewide responded yes, while 41% said no. Sixty-five percent of Democrats, 20% of Republicans and 38% of independents answered in the affirmative.
The next question sought to gauge public support for the RENEW Act. It was phrased this way: “Some state lawmakers in Maryland have proposed a bill to make Maryland’s roads, bridges, electrical grid, and other infrastructure more able to withstand the impacts of climate change and ensure the big oil and gas companies pay a share of the costs. Would you support or oppose this bill?”
More than two-thirds of those surveyed — 68% — said they supported the measure, while 29% expressed opposition. Democratic support was at 82.5%, while 43% of Republicans said they would support the measure, as did 62% of unaffiliated voters.
The final question was phrased: “If a lawmaker were to support a bill to make Maryland’s infrastructure better able to withstand the impacts of climate change and ensure the big oil and gas companies pay a share of the costs, would this enhance your opinion of that lawmaker, diminish your opinion of that lawmaker, or would it have no impact on your opinion?”
Statewide, 55% of voters said such a stance would enhance their opinion of a lawmaker, while 21% said it would diminish their opinion and 24% said it would have no impact. Almost three-quarters of Democrats, 73.1%, said it would enhance their opinion, as did 21% of Republicans and 49% of independent voters.
In District 29, 46% of voters said they would look favorably on lawmakers who support the RENEW Act, while 23% said it would diminish their view of a legislator and 31% said support for the bill would have no impact on their opinion of the lawmaker.
DeMarco said the poll results signify “overwhelming support” for climate action in the state.
The RENEW Act, which hasn’t yet been formally introduced, seeks to impose fines on the state’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. The bill sponsors say it could yield about $900 million a year over a decade — enough to pay for most of the Moore administration’s ambitious climate initiatives.
But Gov. Wes Moore (D) and legislative leaders have yet to embrace the bill. The Senate sponsor, Katie Fry Hester (D-Howard and Montgomery), whose district includes Ellicott City, where a $228 million drainage tunnel is being built after two devastating flood in recent years, said her pitch to colleagues is that the legislation won’t cost the state anything.
“Right now the average taxpayer is paying for all this [environmental damage],” she said. “I’m really confident that this plan has the model to bring the money back.”
The bill’s sponsors also hope to get some help from U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D), who spent a dozen years in the legislature before his election to Congress. He has introduced a bill at the federal level to make polluters pay for climate damage.
Lawmakers also see significance in the poll’s conclusion that the climate crisis has impacted almost half of Marylanders directly, and believe that will add momentum to their legislative push.
“That’s a big number,” Hester said.