Monday, July 12, 2010

Study says need for jobs often outweighs a community's support for environmental regulation

Unemployment and population growth may have a far greater effect than pollution on a community's attitudes toward environmental regulation, reports the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. Its new study, published in the journal Rural Sociology, suggests why many Gulf Coast communities continued to support of offshore drilling after the BP oil blowout and why Appalachian communities support mountaintop-removal coal mining, says a UNH news release.

"Our research shows that people who live in rural areas with high unemployment rates are less likely to support environmental regulations." Larry Hamilton, professor of sociology, senior fellow at the Carsey and lead author of the study, said in the release. "People living in areas with high unemployment rates may perceive environmental rules as a threat to their economic livelihood." Researchers surveyed more than 7,800 people in 19 rural counties of nine states, divided into seven regions: the Rocky Mountains, Pacific Northwest, Northeast, Midwestern farm country, Appalachia, Mississippi Delta, and Alabama’s Black Belt.

Rural areas with high rates of population growth were more likely to support increased environmental regulation. "In such places, population change could be altering the environment in visible ways and make it seem more in need of protection," Hamilton said. The study also supported previous research in revealing Republicans, older respondents, and those who frequently attend religious services were less likely to favor conservation for future generations, while women, nonminority, and better-educated respondents were more likely to favor conservation.

Still, the rural areas were far from uniform. "For example, in our Rocky Mountain counties, the growing economy based on recreation and natural amenities gives people less reason to perceive conflict between jobs and conservation," Hamilton said. "In Appalachia, on the other hand, coal-mining interests have cast debates over mountaintop-removal mining as a choice between jobs and conservation." (Read more)

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