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Bush Gets Failing Grade from Public on Environmental Issues

More Americans than ever disapprove of President Bush's handling of the environment, according to a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, which also has found that spiraling fuel costs are altering household spending habits.

Fifty-six percent of respondents in the national poll said the Bush administration was doing too little to protect the environment. The negative rating was up considerably from The Times' last major survey on the environment, in 2001, when 41% said he wasn't doing enough.

Nevertheless, despite growing disenchantment with administration policies, most people share the president's preference for investment in new technologies over mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions.

Respondent Lisa Brutvan, 42, a real estate consultant from Atlanta who is not registered with any political party, said she voted for Bush because of his stance on terrorism. "I knew in making that decision that I was making a choice against the environment. I figured that for eight years we could survive it," she said. "But I think it's reaching a little bit more of a critical mass.

"At some point you've just got to look at things realistically and realize we're not leaving much of a legacy for our grandchildren if we don't address these issues," she said. She faulted Bush's position on global warming in particular.

The survey of 1,478 adults, conducted over five days ending Tuesday, revealed a growing awareness of global warming. More than seven in 10 said it was a serious problem, and 58% said the Bush administration was doing too little to reduce it.

Three-quarters said they had cut back on household spending or taken steps to conserve energy in response to rising energy costs. Forty-five percent said they approved of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska; 51% opposed it.

Less than 10% said the government should mandate stricter mileage standards to reduce reliance on foreign oil, whereas 52% said the government should invest in alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power. (An additional 3% volunteered that the government should take both those measures and more.) And to cut carbon dioxide emissions linked to global warming, 56% favored market incentives to develop new technology, compared with 11% in favor of capping emissions from vehicles and businesses; 12% volunteered that the government should do both, and 15% said the government did not need to do anything more.

The survey also asked about nuclear power, with 61% saying they would support increased use of such energy "in order to prevent global warming."

Although the public agrees with the administration on some points, in general Americans say they want more action on environmental problems. By a margin of more than 2 to 1, they also say congressional Democrats do a better job on the environment than Republicans.

A strong partisan divide, as well as a regional divide, marked people's assessments. The president got his worst marks in the West and East, where slightly less than a third approve of his handling of environmental issues. He got his best score in the South, where 54% approve. Most Republicans, 74%, backed him on the environment, compared with 18% of Democrats.

"I think he's done an extremely poor job," said Democrat Herb Alston, 43, a real estate agent in San Francisco, complaining that Bush's appointees to agencies responsible for the environment had been too closely linked to business.

On the whole, Americans exhibited a strong environmental bent in the Times/Bloomberg poll, which was conducted under the supervision of Times Polling Director Susan Pinkus and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Three-fourths of respondents said they believed business would "cut corners and damage the environment" without strong government regulation. Fifty-seven percent of respondents  including two-thirds of Westerners said that if improving the environment conflicted with economic growth, the environment should take priority.

Twenty percent said environmental standards should be relaxed to allow more gas and oil drilling to lessen the nation's reliance on foreign oil. But in the West, where the Bush administration has moved aggressively to expedite energy production on public land, half that proportion favored looser drilling regulations.

Although the Bush administration has advocated increased access for snowmobiles and other forms of motorized recreation in national parks such as Yellowstone, a substantial majority opposes such measures. In the West, home to many of the nation's most popular parks, 80% called for limiting access to snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles to protect natural habitat and wildlife. Nationally, the figure was 77%.

"I'm not a huge fan of snowmobiles," said Democrat Dasal Ridgley, 26, a student from Iowa City, Iowa. "It gives people easier access, but it also destroys the land."

But support has risen 11 percentage points since 2001 for another Bush initiative: opening the Alaska wildlife refuge to oil drilling.

"It can be drilled with minimal environmental harm," said Republican Bill Leslie, 65, a retired motion picture producer who lives in Dallas. He has a brother who supplies inspection and safety equipment to the Alaskan oil industry.

"There's always a risk when you drill," Leslie said. "But there's a lot of stuff in place that keeps the spillage from seeping into the groundS. It's not something where you find hundreds of moose running into sludge."

Leslie, who approves of Bush's environmental record and voted for him, also thinks pollution is getting too much of the blame for climate change.

"Sometimes I think people cry more wolf than is necessary as far as global warming is concerned," he said. "It's a cyclical thingS. There are some things that we create. But even if man wasn't on this planet, the ice caps in the Arctic would begin to melt."

Still, he favors government action to reduce emissions, even if it means higher energy prices. "I think because we consume a major portion of the fossil fuel, we need to be wary of it."

Global warming is attracting more public attention, but not because Americans are rushing off to see Al Gore's documentary on the topic. Only 4% of those questioned had seen the film, "An Inconvenient Truth."

The percentage of those who said they hadn't read or heard enough about global warming to answer questions about climate change dropped to 6%, from 14% in the 2001 Times poll. And the percentage who said it was a "very serious problem" rose to 43% in this week's survey, from 33%.

Bush has resisted placing mandatory curbs on heat-trapping greenhouse gases, contending that they would hurt the economy and that it was unclear how much human-caused pollution had contributed to climate change. The stance has put him at odds with a growing number of states, including California, that are moving to adopt their own limits on greenhouse emissions.

In the poll, 47% said global warming was caused by human activities; 16% said both climate cycles and human activities were at play; and about a third said the temperature rise was the result of natural climate changes.

The last year's steep climb in fuel prices has been painful to most households. Only one in 10 Americans said they had no need to conserve energy or cut spending.

Alston, the San Francisco real estate agent, stopped driving an SUV, and he goes out to dinner less. He said his transportation costs have jumped from $85 to $160 a week.

Alston got rid of his 15-mile-a-gallon Nissan Pathfinder when gas prices approached 3 bucks a gallon. He now ferries clients around in a sedan that gets 30 miles a gallon on the highway and 22 in the city.

"My friends thought I was crazy. I said it was more responsible."

Times Associate Polling Director Jill Darling Richardson contributed to this report.



Green issues

Is the Bush administration doing too much, or too little, or just the right amount to protect the environment?

Too little: 56%

Right amount: 36%

Too much: 3%

Don't know: 5%

Source: Times/Bloomberg poll


Environmental matter

Q: When it comes to ensuring a healthy environment for the future, do you think the United States is going in the right direction, or is it seriously off on the wrong track?

All    Democrats    Independents    Republicans
Right direction    41%    26%    34%    64%
Wrong track    51    68    60    27
Don't know    8    6    6    9

 Q: Is the Bush administration doing too much, or too little, or just the right amount to protect the environment?

All    Democrats    Independents    Republicans
Too much    3%    3%    4%    4%
Too little    56    74    57    30
Right amount    36    20    31    60
Don't know    5    3    8    6

 Q: Do you think global warming is a very serious problem, a somewhat serious problem, not too much of a problem or not a problem at all, or haven't you heard enough about this to say?

All    Democrats    Independents    Republicans
Very serious    43%    57%    48%    23%
Somewhat serious    31    31    33    31
Not too much of a problem    11    4    9    19
Not a problem at all    8    1    5    18
Haven't heard/Don't know    8    7    5    9

 Q: Do you think global warming is caused more by human activities, such as driving cars and burning fuel, or is it caused more by natural changes in the climate?

All    Democrats    Independents    Republicans
Human activities    47%    57%    51%    36%
Natural changes in the climate    32    25    25    45
Both (volunteered)    16    15    18    13
Haven't heard/Don't know    5    3    6    6

 Q: What do you think is causing the recent big storms like Katrina and the hotter-than-normal temperatures?

All    Democrats    Independents    Republicans
Global warming    36%    50%    32%    23%
Natural changes in climate    46    32    51    63
Both (volunteered)    9    9    9    6
Haven't heard/Don't know    9    9    8    8

 Q: There is evidence linking higher levels of carbon dioxide to increased global temperature. Do you believe the federal government should do more to address the issue of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, or not?

All    Democrats    Independents    Republicans
Government is doing enough    15%    6%    13%    28%
Government should do more    78    90    79    64
Don't know    7    4    8    8


Full wording of the questions and poll results are available at .

How the poll was conducted: The Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll contacted 1,478 adults nationwide by telephone July 28 through Aug. 1. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the nation, and random-digit dialing techniques allowed listed and unlisted numbers to be contacted. Multiple attempts were made to contact each number. Results were weighted slightly to conform with their census figures for sex, race, age, education and region. The margin of sampling error for both samples is plus or minus 3 percentage points. For certain subgroups, the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results may also be affected by factors such as wording and the order in which questions are presented.

Source: L.A. Times/Bloomberg poll