In the first nationwide poll on mountaintop removal mining, two out of three likely voters oppose recent efforts by the Bush administration to repeal an environmental law known as the Stream Buffer Zone rule, which prohibits mining activities within 100 feet of a stream. Upon hearing that “more than 1,200 miles of streams in Appalachia already have been buried or destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining,” fully 85% of voters say they are concerned about the effects of this mining practice.

The practice of mountaintop removal coal mining—where hundreds of feet are blown off the tops of mountains to get at thin coal seams, and the remaining rock and waste is dumped into nearby valleys—has long been opposed by many residents of Appalachia. This newest poll, the first to test voters’ views of this practice nationwide, illustrates that voters in every region of the country are similarly against mountaintop removal mining.

Last week, the Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining (OSM) made the final moves on a proposal to repeal the Stream Buffer Zone rule, a Reagan-era regulation that prohibits surface coal mining activities from disturbing areas within 100 feet of permanent and seasonal streams. OSM is trying to clear the path for more mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia by allowing streams and headwaters to be permanently buried with mining waste and “overburden.”

The nationwide survey of 1,000 likely voters conducted by two firms, Lake Research Partners and Bellwether Research and Consulting on behalf of Earthjustice, the Sierra Club and Appalachian Center for the Economy and Environment, shows overwhelming opposition to the changes to the Stream Buffer Zone rule. Fully 66% of those polled oppose the repeal of the protections for streams, with nearly half (49%) who “strongly oppose” the repeal.

Even in a tough economy, Americans see environmental protections as an economic boon by a 2:1 margin. Voters believe environmental protections such as the Stream Buffer Zone Rule are, in fact, beneficial to the economy, and play a critical role in protecting our water, air, and natural surroundings

The poll results showed that:

* A majority of American voters believes the environment in the United States is deteriorating. Fully 55% say the quality of the environment has gotten worse in recent years.

* By more than a 2:1 margin, voters believe environmental protections are good for the economy. Voters categorically reject the argument that environmental protections are bad for jobs and business, a common refrain of the Bush administration, as well as oil and mining companies.

* Opposition to Bush’s effort to repeal the Stream Buffer Zone Rule is both broad and deep, transcending traditional partisan, regional, and demographic divides. Majorities of all political parties oppose repealing the rule, as do strong majorities of men (62%) and women (69%), college-educated and non college-educated voters (65% for each), and voters in all four corners of the country (74% in the Northeast, 64% in the Midwest, 64% in the South, and 64% in the West).

* Finally, voters also report high levels of concern over water quality and take a firm stand against further destruction of America’s streams. Upon hearing that “more than 1,200 miles of streams in Appalachia have already been buried or destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining, with another 1,000 miles projected for burial and destruction in the next ten years,” fully 86% of voters say they are concerned about the effects of mountaintop removal, including a 60% majority who are very concerned.

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