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The American Quest for Energy

Comment

With higher gas prices and new doubts about nuclear power, the debate over America's dependence on foreign oil is moving up in the public consciousness.

To reduce this dependence, 81 percent of Americans see development of new energy sources as an urgent priority. Sixty-seven percent also believes there is an urgent national need to reduce the amount of energy Americans now consume.

When forced to make a choice, 60 percent says it is more important to find new sources of energy, while just 31 percent says a better approach is to reduce the amount of energy that Americans consume.

Those general attitudes filter into the specifics of individual policy choices, as well. Sixty-seven percent favors offshore oil drilling. Support for such drilling has ebbed and flowed over the past couple of years, but it never fell below 53 percent even in the aftermath of the 2010 Gulf oil spill. Support for deep-water drilling is a few points lower, but still significant.

Additionally, 55 percent wants to see increased production of shale oil in the continental United States, and 50 percent is prepared to see drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve.

The only new energy source not receiving majority support from Americans at this time is the opening of new nuclear power plants. The most recent polling shows that just 38 percent supports more nuclear plants in the United States, while 42 percent is opposed. Prior to the earthquake and nuclear plant problems in Japan, most Americans were supportive of more such plants in the U.S. It remains to be seen whether support for nuclear power will bounce back over time.

In all cases, expressions of support for developing new energy options should not be seen primarily as a commentary on the particular energy source. Few Americans, for example, have studied the trade-offs involved in shale oil production. Rather, the consistency of support for new energy sources reflects a broad belief that such energy can be found in a cost-effective manner without destroying the environment.

In stark contrast to the popular support for measures related to developing new sources of energy, there is very little enthusiasm for conservation measures. Only 25 percent supports a return to the 1970s policy of a 55-mile-per-hour speed limit. But that's higher than support for taxing approaches to encourage conservation. Only 15 percent supports a plan that would tax Americans for each mile they drive, and support for directly increasing the gasoline tax is in the single digits.

Only 39 percent supported the cash-for-clunkers plan that was a combination auto-industry bailout and conservation measure. Only 35 percent favored the cap-and-trade legislation passed by the House of Representatives in 2009.

These individual preferences indicating support for finding new energy but opposition to forced conservation also fit within a broader sense of what is the most pragmatic way to reduce dependence upon foreign oil. Only 28 percent of voters think that government subsidies and regulations would be more effective than free market competition. Forty-seven percent takes the opposite view and says free-market competition is more likely to achieve that goal.

To find out more about Scott Rasmussen, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2011 SCOTT RASMUSSEN

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