Study: Nearly 80 percent of Americans support stricter fuel economy rules

A majority of both Democrats and Republicans were concerned with transportation's effect on the environment and believe that lawmakers should take it into effect when developing transportation plans, according to a new survey. 

Seth Perlman/AP/File
A motorist puts fuel in his car's gas tank at a service station in Springfield, Ill.

For the past month or so, the Environmental Protection Agency has been making headlines over its proposal to lower the fuel economy standards it had set for 2025. The EPA won't sign off on any changes to its plan until 2018, though, and in the meantime, at least one group is pushing it to reconsider.

That group is the Natural Resources Defense Council, and as you might guess from the name, it works "to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment". The NRDC recently funded a study to pin down U.S. public opinion on matters like energy efficiency, and the results weigh heavily in NRDC's favor.

That's not to say that the survey's findings are necessarily bogus--it was conducted by a reputable, third-party market research firm, ORC International. It's only to say that the NRDC has an interest in keeping fuel economy benchmarks high, and therefore, the survey ought to be viewed with a critical eye.

Survey results

Last month, ORC conducted phone interviews with 1,012 U.S. adults. The company asked respondents a battery of questions about transportation, pollution, climate change, and similar topics. Here are the key findings:

  • 77 percent of those surveyed agreed that “cars and trucks contribute to the problem of air pollution”. Among self-identified Democrats, that number was higher, at 87 percent. However, Republicans were clearly concerned with transportation's effect on the environment, too: 69 percent agreed that there was a direct link between the two.
  • The results were a little more mixed when respondents were asked whether state agencies should consider "vehicle-related carbon pollution and climate change" when developing transportation plans. On average, 78 percent of those surveyed agreed that agencies should do just that, but support was far higher among Democrats (92 percent) than Republicans (64 percent).
  • On that same question, several groups were especially likely to agree that agencies should develop transport plans with pollution and climate change in mind. Those groups included respondents age 18 to 34 (88 percent), women (86 percent), and Hispanics (86 percent). 
  • 79 percent of respondents agreed that the federal government should set higher fuel economy standards. That figure was higher among Democrats (90 percent), and lower--but still high--among Republicans (68 percent).
  • When the question came to automakers' involvement in boosting fuel economy, though, the responses were very, very clear: ORC found that 95 percent agreed with the statement, "Automakers should continue to improve fuel economy for all vehicle types.' Support varied little, whether respondents were Democrats (97 percent), Republicans (93 percent), or independents (94 percent).

Will the EPA consider the NRDC's survey when evaluating changes to its fuel economy guidelines for 2025? Perhaps. But of course, automakers will have their own surveys, studies, and reports on hand to push the needle in the other direction--all of which ought to be viewed as critically as the NRDC's.

If you like, you can review the full results of the NRDC's survey here.

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