In the wake of the largest oil disaster in U.S. history, two just released polls by USA Today/Gallup show that Americans are increasingly skeptical of increased offshore drilling.  In the one month since the April 20th explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig, support for more offshore drilling has dropped by nearly 20 percent – a big change in a short period of time.

Gallup pollster Jeffrey M. Jones notes that:

Americans’ support for increased offshore drilling has declined significantly since April, to the point that the public is now about evenly divided on the issue. President Obama’s decision to extend the moratorium on new offshore drilling is now more in line with Americans’ – and particularly Democrats’ — current views on drilling after the oil spill than before it, when Obama called for more drilling. The oil spill has also changed Americans’ attitudes on the trade-off between energy production and environmental protection — underscoring the challenges U.S. leaders will face in addressing such issues going forward.

Similarly, Americans favor protection of the environment over development of “oil, gas, and coal” by 55 percent to 39 percent.   This is the first time that environment lead energy development in over a year.

There have been big gains in support for the environment by Democrats and Independents between March and May 2010.  Republicans support for environmental remained static.

President Obama, Senator Lindsey Graham, and many other public officials have noted that economic development and environmental health go hand in hand.  Nonetheless, when forced to choose, Americans select environmental protection.  When it comes to choosing environmental protection or economic development, the former is more popular than the latter for the first time in two years.  And the biggest change from March to May 2010 was among independent voters.

Gallup pollster Jeffrey M. Jones concludes

The recent oil spill has spurred a significant shift in Americans’ environmental attitudes. For the last few years, Americans’ environmental concerns declined as the public placed a higher priority on pocketbook concerns like the economy and energy, likely due to the poor U.S. economy. However, in just two months’ time, that trend has reversed, and the pro-environment position has regained the strength it showed for most of the last decade.

The BP oil disaster has led to significant shift in public opinion in favor of environmental protection and against offshore oil drilling and coal production.  This presents a unique opportunity to reduce oil use, establish more protections for offshore oil drilling, invest in clean energy, and cut pollution.  The Senate has an opportunity to act in concert with public opinion.  Senators can do well by doing good.

Guest blogger Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

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