[Kenn W. Kiser,]

Coal Country’s Mixed Views on Climate Accord

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Many political leaders in the Ohio Valley approve of President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. But surveys indicate that public opinion across the region varies, with a slight majority saying they’d like the country to stay the course on climate change.

According to a Yale University survey, the majority of people in every state — including coal-friendly Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia — support U.S. participation in the Paris agreement.

Nationally, the survey conducted after the election found 7 out of 10 registered voters believe the agreement is a good idea compared to about 1 in 10 who actively oppose it. The survey also found that about half of Trump supporters are also supportive of the Paris agreement, while about 30 percent are not.

In Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, the Yale survey found slightly more than half support the Paris agreement. (The state-level results had a 10 percent margin of error.)

“There are a lot of people in Congress who are a lot more polarized than the public is,” said research scientist Jennifer Marlon at Yale’s program on Climate Change Communications. She developed the state-level estimates based on samples of populations from throughout the U.S.

“We tend to hear from people at either extreme and we forget how many are in the middle who are not hugely political,” Marlon said.

She isn’t surprised that there’s a growing majority within the population who believe climate change is a problem that needs to be addressed.

“We’re getting hotter summers and we’re seeing natural disasters happening and it’s just getting harder to ignore,” she said.

A Mining Town’s View

Todd DePriest is the mayor of Jenkins, Kentucky, where the welcome sign says “A City Built on Coal.” Jenkins is in the heart of Appalachian coal country, where the physical damage from mining and the economic costs of the industry’s collapse are both plain to see.

He isn’t blind to global concerns about a changing climate, but he’s looking hard economic realities in the eye, daily.

“Well, I know the goal is a cleaner earth and that’s what we all need and should be working toward,” DePriest said. “At the same time there’s the effects on the families and people being able to make a living for their families. If you’re starving to death waitin’ on the earth to be green, that’s a hard call.”

It’s not a hard call for West Virginia’s Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. Morrisey wrote to President Trump on behalf of ten other state attorneys general urging withdrawal from the Paris accord and abandonment of other federal climate mitigation efforts as well.

“We think the Paris agreement was always premised on false information,” Morrisey said in a statement. “And we don’t want this Paris agreement to go forward.”

Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul from Kentucky recently joined 20 other U.S. senators in signing a letter to the president also encouraging withdrawal.

They warned that should the administration continue to unwind environmental regulations that aim to rein in greenhouse gasses, provisions in the Paris agreement could subject the U.S. to litigation. The letter calls for a “clean break.”

Trump’s Move

A formal withdrawal from the agreement will likely take years, according to the signed agreement.

The Paris agreement was crafted in 2015 as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which the U.S. has been part of since 1992.

The U.S. signed on last year along with almost 200 other nations around the world. So far, 147 countries have ratified the agreement. Trump’s withdrawal, once finalized, would mean the U.S. will join only two other countries that do not support the agreement: Nicaragua and Syria.