Public supports energy over environment: poll

Oil rigs are seen in Midland, Texas May 9, 2008. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - For the first time in 10 years Americans are more likely to say the United States should give more priority to developing oil, natural gas and coal than to protecting the environment, according to a poll on Tuesday.

The poll was conducted a few weeks before President Barack Obama announced he would open offshore oil drilling in some parts the U.S. East Coast, Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.

Half of 1,014 U.S. adults, who were surveyed March 4-7 by Gallup, said the country should give more priority to developing and producing the fossil fuels. Only 43 percent said protection of the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of limiting the amount of energy supplies.

It was the first time in the 10 years that Gallup has been asking the question that energy production was favored over environment.

The poll was released a few weeks before Senators John Kerry, a Democrat, Lindsey Graham, a Republican and Joe Lieberman, an independent, hope to unveil a compromise climate bill that would effectively put fees on fuels such as gasoline and coal to reduce emissions of gases blamed for warming the planet. The bill would also seek to increase incentives for offshore drilling and nuclear power.

According to the poll, 52 percent of Americans favored greater energy conservation while only 36 percent favored greater production of oil, natural gas, and coal as a means of solving the country’s energy problems.

Oil prices have risen about $6 since early March to about $87 per barrel, an 18-month high, on strong economic data in the United States, the world’s top petroleum consumer.

The Gallup data have a 4 percentage point margin of error.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Lisa Shumaker