The survey says: Pittsburghers care for environment

Results are mixed among those polled about Marcellus Shale gas drilling


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If the latest Pittsburgh Regional Environment Survey were a Halloween trick-or-treater, it would be holding a mixed bag of treats.

The new survey of local attitudes about a wide range of environment issues -- including climate change, air and water quality and Marcellus Shale gas drilling -- shows most residents of the seven-county Pittsburgh metropolitan statistical area lean "green" but are fractured in both their knowledge and support of environmental issues.

"People were more enlightened and concerned about the environment than I would have expected," said Douglas Heuck, director of the regional indicators project, PittsburghTODAY, which conducted the survey along with the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Social and Urban Research.

He said survey respondents seem to "have good handles on personal conservation practices" such as turning off lights when they leave a room (95 percent), recycling (74 percent) and purchasing energy-saving appliances (75 percent). And majorities of 57 and 58 percent support protections of the environment over economic growth and energy production.

"But on the other hand, most people don't think we have any air quality problems because they can't see the pollution like they used to," Mr. Heuck said, "even though it's the invisible stuff we still have that can cause serious health problems."

Regional environment survey
(Click image for larger version)

Public views are also at odds about shale gas development. Nearly 59 percent believe drilling poses a significant or moderate threat to public health and the environment. At the same time, 48 percent support shale gas drilling, compared to 29 percent who oppose it.

But more than 70 percent oppose drilling in state parks, game lands and nature reserves.

"It shows people are of two minds on Marcellus Shale gas," Mr. Heuck said. "They're aware of the economic shot in the arm Marcellus has been and promises to be, but they also want government to make sure it's done right. They're concerned about public health and the environment."

He noted that more than 95 percent said the chemical components of fracking fluids should be made public, and "that's a very strong statement."

Among the other findings:

• Half of those surveyed see the local environment as improving and only 14 percent view it as in decline.

• More than 64 percent say climate change is a "severe" or "moderate" problem, while 18.5 percent say it's not a problem, with men and those earning more than $75,000 more likely to be in the denier group.

• Nearly 79 percent believe there is nothing they can do to solve environmental problems, and about the same percentage wants the state to increase its environmental oversight and regulation.

• The environment is important to the region's economic outlook according to 96 percent of the respondents and 65 percent of them rate it "very important."

• Slightly more residents believe environmental regulations strengthen industry and job growth (31 percent), rather than weaken industry and job growth (28 percent), while more (40 percent) say they have minimal effect.

Mr. Heuck said the survey was done to assess public attitudes on the important environmental topics of the day and the results will be available to individuals, groups, policy and decision makers and state and local officials for guidance.

"The environment is an important issue, and this is the most in-depth survey of public attitudes to date," he said. "We want people to make decisions going forward based on good information."

The 80-question survey, conducted by phone in May and June, is based on responses from 800 randomly selected residents of southwestern Pennsylvania; half of those in Allegheny County and half in the surrounding counties of Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland.

The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percent for the whole sample and plus or minus 6.1 percent for the separate survey results for Allegheny County and the metropolitan statistical area's remaining six counties.

The complete survey results are available on the PittsburghTODAY website: www.pittsburghtoday.org.


Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.

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