Building local support for carbon rules

Building local support for carbon rules

Earlier this month, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed a lawsuit by the nation’s largest coal companies and 14 coal-producing states that sought to block EPA’s Clean Power Plan.  The court rejected the lawsuit, declaring it was “unprecedented” for a court to review a rule that is only in draft form.

Time for celebration? Not quite. While many environmental organizations saw this as a victory, the EPA cautions against viewing the Clean Power Plan as a ‘done deal’. Jeffrey R. Holmstead, a top E.P.A. official from the George W. Bush administration who now lobbies for electric utilities with the firm Bracewell & Giuliani wrote, “The court did not say anything about the legal merits of the Clean Power Plan. All those issues are simply put off to another day.”

So how can we ensure the Clean Power Plan does make it to implementation? One strategy begins with the newly released Yale Climate Opinion Maps (YCOM). This tool, along with other reports from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, could provide the ammunition we need to craft effective communication and engagement campaigns to ensure passage. A month ago on the Climate Access web site I blogged about how a fundamental tenet of effective engagement (and marketing) is to ‘Know Thy Audience’. If communicators are trying to build support for climate action, one of the first steps is to get clear on beliefs, concerns and values of those they seek to engage.

The opinion maps quickly and easily show very accurate estimates of climate change belief, risk perceptions, and policy support in various geographic scales, from the national to the county level. For example, an interesting revelation in the maps is the difference in state support for setting strict CO2 limits on coal power plants. (See image at top of post.)

As indicated in the table below, while the District of Columbia has the highest support (80%) nationally for setting strict limits, other states in the nation range from 76% to only 43% in support

Along with state segmentation, the opinion maps can scale down to the county level, revealing that support in neighboring communities can range anywhere from 60 to 74% in favor of setting limits. Couple all of this information with level of concern and opinion on scientific consensus (which are both opinion points in Yale’s new maps) and I can tailor my communication campaign around the specific beliefs of my geographic audience.

Other reports produced on the Yale web site indicate American Catholics express strong support (75%) for CO2 limits on coal-fired plants. In addition, a national survey by Latino Decisions and Voces Verdes in April 2013 indicated 84% of Latinos favor EPA setting safeguards to reduce air pollution.

The next logical question is, how do I take all of this rich information on demographic and geographic support and craft an effective engagement campaign around support of the Clean Power Plan? Depending on the geographic region you are targeting, one might showcase how Catholic Latinos in their community strongly support adoption of the plan (social norming tactic) based of avoidance of childhood asthma.  Use the maps and recent polling research to focus your communication strategy based on your audience. In places where support may be in the minority, think about what benefits of the Clean Power Plan may be relevant to your specific audience. For example, you might focus in these geographic areas on values associated with affordable reliable energy, flexibility, investment or innovation. Once you craft your frame, partner with trusted spokespeople for that audience to convey the messages.

Want to learn more about how Yale’s Climate Opinion Maps can inform your work? Listen to a recording of our recent webinar with the researchers behind the maps, as well as organizations already using them.