Two-thirds of Americans give priority to developing alternative energy over fossil fuels

Majority of Americans want U.S. focus to be on alternative energy

Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter

Published: Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Approximately 65 percent of Americans prioritize the development of alternative energy sources compared with 27 percent who would put greater emphasis on expanding U.S. fossil fuel production, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center.

This marks a slight uptick in preference for alternative energy since December 2014. At that time, the Pew Research Center found that 60 percent of Americans stressed developing alternative energy over developing fossil fuel sources.

The study demonstrates increased popular support for alternative energy at a time when President Trump is pledging to boost production from fossil fuel energy sources like coal.

Trump's incoming administration was quick to post an energy policy summary on the White House website that calls for "reviving America's coal industry, which has been hurting for too long" (Greenwire, Jan. 20).

"There's a perception that we're about to make major changes in energy policy," said Cary Funk, associate director of research on science and society at the Pew Research Center. "So I think these data are particularly important in terms of giving a portrait of where the public sits."

The study also shows that energy priorities remain divided along party lines. Democrats are still far more likely than Republicans to believe that developing alternative energy sources like wind and solar should take precedence over expanding production of coal, oil and natural gas.

Specifically, 81 percent of Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents prefer developing alternative energy. Republicans and GOP-leaning independents are more split: 45 percent favor developing alternative energy, while 44 percent favor developing fossil fuel sources.

A further ideological divide persists within the GOP. About 65 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans give priority to developing alternative energy, compared with just 33 percent of conservative Republicans.

These political differences over energy priorities are in keeping with polarized views on other environmental issues, most notably climate change. The Pew Research Center previously found that 88 percent of liberal Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents say climate change is a major threat to the well-being of the United States, compared with just 12 percent of conservative Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.

"We often see deep political divides over climate and energy issues," Funk said. "But you do sometimes see more common ground."

Age also emerged as a factor influencing energy priorities. Among Americans ages 18 to 49, 73 percent stress developing alternative energy and 22 percent stress developing fossil fuels. Americans older than 50 are less unified, with 55 percent emphasizing alternative energy and 34 percent emphasizing fossil fuels.

"I get asked a lot whether or not younger adults are particularly concerned about climate change or think differently about energy issues," Funk said. "Here, we see that older adults tend to give higher priority for fossil fuels, but a majority of all groups would put the priority on alternative energy source development."


Click here for the Pew Research Center study.