Survey: More Kentuckians are concerned about mountaintop removal mining

Mountaintop removal coal mining is moving up on the list of what Kentuckians identify as an environmental problem in the state, according to a new survey.

But global climate change, despite the media attention it gets, still is far down on the list.

And, although Kentuckians are more aware of environmental problems, they are increasingly unwilling to pay more for goods and services that are "green."

Those are the highlights of The 2009 Survey of Kentuckians' Environmental Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviors. The survey is conducted by the Kentucky Environmental Education Council, a state agency; and the University of Kentucky Survey Research Center.

The education council is required to "monitor and report periodically on environmental literacy in Kentucky." The survey, which the council calls a snapshot, previously was conducted in 1999 and 2004.

On the first two surveys so few people mentioned mountaintop removal that it did not rank among the top concerns. This year, however, it came in third, with 14 percent saying it was the most important environmental problem facing the state.

Mountain Justice organizer Dave Cooper of Lexington, who works to end the mining practice, said the survey is good news. In his work, he said, he has found many people who don't know that the electricity they use is produced by mining and burning coal.

"It looks like people are starting to learn about the true source of our nation's energy and what it means to the Appalachian coal fields," Cooper said.

Survey results bear out Cooper's belief. In the last two surveys, only 49 percent knew that the major source of electricity in the United States was from coal-fired power plants. This year, the number rose to 60 percent.

"While this is an improvement, these percentages are still of concern in a state where electricity costs are relatively low due to our proximity to coal and where coal, the jobs it creates and the way is is mined are major sources of public debate," the survey report said.

Water pollution was named by 26 percent of those surveyed, up from 17 percent in 2004 and 24 percent in 1999.

Air pollution has ranked second in all three surveys, but the number of people naming it as their primary concern shot to from 9 percent in 2004 to 22 percent this year.

Only 1 percent of those surveyed listed global warming as their main concern, a result that the survey report characterized as "surprising," considering the media attention the issue has received in recent years.

Questions about people's behavior elicited the response about being less willing to pay for going green.

It also reflected higher gas prices. In 2004, 85 percent said that gas mileage was a consideration when they buy a car. This year, that increased to 95 percent.

The UK center contacted 634 Kentuckians last spring to produce the survey. The margin of error was 4 percent.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader