Californians love green energy but willing to explore oil options

150 150 Ed Coghlan

Oil field in Monterey County. (Photo Credit: Steve Wilson/Flickr)

There is no ambiguity about which issue is most important to Californians. Creating jobs and improving the state’s economy tops the list.

It’s not close and it’s not partisan.

Democrats, Republicans and “decline-to-states” agree overwhelmingly. More than 36 percent of Californians say “Jobs/Economy” is the most important issue facing California. The subject of the state budget and deficit was a distant second at 18 percent and education was third at 10.5 percent

Those are the results of a poll released by the California Business Roundtable and the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy.

What is more partisan is whether you think the economy is improving.

If you’re a Democrat, you’re way more likely to think it’s getting better than if you are a Republican by a margin of 42-to-13 percent

The poll, which is the first of several that will explore how major state issues impact the California economy, took a look at the energy issue. It is generally accepted that Californians want to replace the high-value jobs lost over the decade, and the poll indicates that more energy exploration might be OK with them as a way to do that.

“Californians in general are still worried about the economy,” said Dr. Michael Shires of Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy. “They want energy prices lower and more jobs created and say they are willing to be flexible in order to achieve those goals.”

It’s that flexibility in the polling results that captures one’s attention.

The poll shows that Californians support taxing oil and natural gas extraction in the state to help pay for education, safety and social service programs by nearly double (49 percent-to-28 percent). We may get a chance to vote on the severance tax next year.

California’s attitude toward energy exploration may be changing, as a majority those surveyed in this poll were in favor of expanding exploring for oil and gas here.

“What was very revealing was that Californians seem to indicate they are willing to be flexible with environmental regulations to extract the oil and gas, if it means that the price of gasoline would decrease and the number of jobs would increase,” observed Dr. Shires.

Most Californians polled said they would be willing to ease environmental regulations (50-to-28 percent). The desire to balance lowering their energy prices and improving the economy while still promoting a “green” economy is evident in the poll results.

When asked if green energy policies had a negative or positive impact on the state, a plurality said “positive” at 47.5 percent. And a vast majority said the state should increase usage of solar energy (76.5 percent), but decreasing usage of coal energy got the most votes at 41.6 percent.

Republicans are much more prone than Democrats (63 percent to 43 percent) to supporting making it easier to extract oil and gas. What was interesting is that the traditionally Democratic demographic of Latinos seem to break with their party on this issue where 54 percent of Latinos polled indicated they ease regulations for lower gas prices and more jobs.

We Californians will be hearing more about the Monterey Shale formation, located in Central California and thought to harbor an abundance of oil. The poll question about oil exploration sets things up by saying proponents argue developing the shale could create a half-million jobs by 2015, while opponents say they are still concerned about the environmental impacts of fracking.

That said, support for developing the Monterey Shale was 46 percent compared to 29 percent opposed.

The argument about energy development and taxing that development in California may be ready to heat up again.


Ed Coghlan

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