The first nationwide poll ever taken on the subject finds that most Americans oppose the practice of mountaintop-removal mining, specifically the Bush administration’s recent bid to repeal the stream buffer zone rule.

Of course, much like polls about climate, a high percentage of people willing to say it concerns them does not indicate a high percentage of people who will do a damn thing about it. Very few people will speak in support of blowing up the nation’s oldest mountains. But many people will use the power produced from it without complaint.

Here’s my favorite finding: "By more than a 2:1 margin, voters believe environmental protections are good for the economy." Guess they’re paying more attention than economists in D.C.

The poll was conducted by Lake Research Partners and Bellwether Research and Consulting. Here’s a summary of the findings [PDF]:

* A majority of American voters believes the environment in the United States is deteriorating. Fully 55% say the quality of the environment has gotten worse in recent years. Another quarter believes the environment has stayed about the same and only 18 percent believe the environment has improved.

* By more than a 2:1 margin, voters believe environmental protections are good for the economy. Voters categorically reject the argument that environmental protections are bad for jobs and business — a common refrain of the Bush administration, as well as oil and mining companies. A plurality (47%) believe environmental protections are good for the economy and another 23% believe such protections have no impact on the economy. Only 20% of Americans believe environmental protections are bad for the economy.

* Two-thirds of American voters oppose the Bush administration’s effort to repeal the Stream Buffer Zone Rule. Fully 66% oppose repeal, including roughly half (49%) who "strongly oppose" repealing the rule, which for 25 years has protected our nation’s water resources from toxic debris caused by mountaintop removal coal mining. Only two in ten (20%) support the Bush administration’s effort to gut this critical safeguard (just 8% support it strongly), and another 14% are unsure.

* Opposition to Bush’s effort to repeal the Stream Buffer Zone Rule is both broad and deep, transcending traditional demographic and regional divides. Strong majorities of men (62%) and women (69%) oppose repealing the rule, as do both college-educated and non college-educated voters (65% for each), and voters in all four corners of the country (74% in the Northeast, 64% in the Midwest, 64% in the South, and 64% in the West).

* Public sentiment about mountaintop removal coal mining is largely negative. Over half have heard about mountaintop removal mining, and by roughly a 2:1 margin these voters have an unfavorable impression of the practice (34% unfavorable, 18% favorable). Furthermore, voters oppose strongly the practice. Without any description of mountaintop removal mining, voters oppose it by more than a 2:1 margin (39% to 15%). After giving voters a basic description of the practice, opposition spikes to 61%, with virtually no change in the level of support (16%). Public sentiment against mountaintop removal mining is also broad, with opposition outweighing support in every region of the country.

* Finally, voters also report high levels of concern over water quality and take a firm stand against further destruction of America’s streams. Upon hearing that "more than 1,200 miles of streams in Appalachia have already been buried or destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining, with another 1,000 miles projected for burial and destruction in the next ten years," fully 86% of voters say they are concerned about the effects of mountaintop removal, including a 60% majority who are very concerned.

The Bottom Line: American voters flatly oppose repealing the protections outlined in the Stream Buffer Zone Rule. The Bush Administration — and public officials across the country — should take note, and understand that voters’ opposition to repealing this law is strong and considered, stemming from the sense that removing environmental protections would pose a threat not only to the quality of our environment but also to the health of our economy.