DENVER (AP) – Western voters see the region’s vast public lands as an economic asset and support limiting energy exploration on them, even as they remain concerned about the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, according to a poll being released Thursday by Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project.
The Conservation in the West poll found at times contradictory attitudes, but overall strong support, for conservation in the six states where it sampled voters – Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
In those states, voters overwhelmingly thought national parks, monuments and forests created jobs as opposed to seeing them as impediments to job growth.
Fifty-nine percent supported “strong standards” to limit drilling near recreation areas, water sources and wildlife. Only 35 percent supported opening more public lands to energy exploration.
“It’s fairly strong across all states,” said Walter Hecox, an economics professor at Colorado College and director of the school’s State of the Rockies Project.
“I’m astounded at how strong their beliefs on conservation in relation to energy development remain” in light of the weak economy, Hecox said. Voters often tolerate more development when the economy is in the doldrums.
There has been perennial tension in the region over the federal government’s control of vast swathes of land and how much can be developed or opened to oil and gas drilling. The issue has gotten more attention recently because of record levels of natural gas production and industry complaints that President Barack Obama has placed too many regulations on energy extraction on federal land.
Much of the increased production has come on state or private land.
The poll did find that 89 percent viewed dependence on foreign oil as a serious problem, and 56 percent backed the concept of drilling on public lands, provided environmentally sensitive places are protected.
About two-thirds said too much government regulation of oil and gas drilling was at least a somewhat serious problem. But about half thought that there wasn’t enough oversight and monitoring of drilling in their state.
When asked about regulations on clean water, natural areas and wildlife, 54 percent backed such measures, while 35 percent saw them as burdensome red tape.
The poll was conducted jointly by Republican and Democratic polling firms. It sampled 400 voters in each state with a margin of error of 2 percentage points at the regional level and 4.9 percentage points at the state level.
– By NICHOLAS RICCARDI, Associated Press
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