New Polls: Majority of Americans Oppose Expansion of Clean Water Act

Published May 1, 2008

Most Americans oppose a proposal to expand the Clean Water Act, according to a new nationwide survey released by the National Center for Public Policy Research.

Federal Power Rejected

The proposal, the Clean Water Restoration Act (CWRA), has been introduced by Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN) and Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI).

In the March 6 poll, voters were informed Congress is considering a measure that would expand the reach of the Clean Water Act, including to areas only intermittently wet. They were then provided brief arguments both for and against the measure and asked whether they favored or opposed the proposal.

Of those expressing an opinion, 54 percent opposed the measure, while 46 percent favored it, according to the survey. Among political independents, the margin was greater–56 percent opposed the measure while 44 percent favored it.

“Americans reject the key feature of the Oberstar-Feingold proposal, that waters need not be navigable–nor even be waters–to be subject to federal regulation,” said David Ridenour, vice president of the National Center for Public Policy Research. “It is significant that independents, who are increasingly seen as an important barometer of the national mood, reject Oberstar-Feingold by a whopping 12 percentage points.”

Confirms Recent Poll

The National Center’s survey was the second poll in less than a week to find a majority of Americans oppose CWRA. A poll released a week earlier by the Western Business Roundtable found 63 percent of Americans oppose the measure and 47 percent strongly oppose it.

The Western Business Roundtable survey also found 58 percent of respondents would oppose any change in law that would “transfer the authority to the federal government over groundwater, ditches, pipes, streets, gutters, and desert features.”

“It is self-evident that the proposed changes are pretty extreme and take away the local decision-making process,” said Darell Henry, vice president of federal government affairs for the Western Business Roundtable.

“People understand that the Clean Water Act is delicately crafted to both protect the environment and ensure that local voices are heard regarding clean water issues,” Henry added. “People are justifiably wary of upsetting the Clean Water Act’s delicate balance and long-term record of successful environmental protection.”

All Regions Oppose

The National Center poll found a majority of Americans from all regions oppose the proposed expansion of the Clean Water Act, led by the Mountain States (62 percent), the Farm Belt (59 percent), and New England (58 percent).

“These results are not surprising given the enormous negative implications the Oberstar-Feingold proposal would have for farmers, ranchers, hunters, and outdoor enthusiasts,” said Ridenour.

The poll was conducted by Wilson Research Strategies, which surveyed 800 registered voters likely to vote in the 2008 presidential election. The poll has a margin of error of 3.46 percent at a 95 percent confidence interval.

David Almasi ([email protected]) is executive director of the National Center for Public Policy Research.