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A polar bear is shown in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska in this undated photo. Global warming is putting the animals at risk by reducing the summer sea ice they need. A July 21, 2014 poll finds most Americans won't support a carbon tax, considered by many economists as an effective way to combat rising temperatures, unless the revenue is returned to them or used to fund renewable energy. / SUBHANKAR BANERJEE AP

Most Americans oppose a carbon tax, considered by many economists a cost-effective way to fight climate change, but they are willing to support it if the money is returned to them or used to fund renewable energy, a poll Monday finds.

Only a third, or 34%, say they support taxing fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas that emit heat-trapping carbon dioxide when burned, according to researchers at the University of Michigan's Center for Local, State and Urban Policy and Muhlenberg College's Institute of Public Opinion. This general lack of support, which is lowest among Republicans, is consistent with the authors' prior polling.

Yet a different picture emerges when survey participants are asked about three possible uses of the tax revenue. If used to fund programs for renewable power like solar and wind, 60% back the tax overall, including 51% of Republicans, 54% of Independents and 70% of Democrats.

A smaller majority supports a tax if the revenue is returned to them via a rebate check. While 56% overall favor this idea, support ranges from 43% for Republicans to 52% for Independents and 65% for Democrats.

The third option -- using the tax revenue to reduce the massive U.S. fiscal deficit -- is not popular with any political group. It is opposed by the majority in each.

"Conventional wisdom holds that a carbon tax, while attractive on economic grounds, is a political non-starter. The survey results reported here suggest that this conclusion may be premature," says the report. "Support for a carbon tax depends strongly on the proposed use of tax revenue."

A carbon tax has been too controversial for Congress to tackle in recent years. In 2009, the House of Representatives passed a "cap and trade" version, in which carbon emissions would be capped but companies that don't meet the limits could buy polluting permits from those that do. In 2010, the legislation collapsed in the Senate.

The Obama administration has since picked up the issue. Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a national 30% cut in carbon emissions from power plants by 2030, from 2005 levels, and gave each state its own reduction target.

States could meet their targets in various ways, including energy efficiency and cap-and-trade programs. As part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, nine Northeastern states have already cut their carbon emissions by limiting them overall and auctioning off polluting permits.

Other countries have adopted a carbon tax, including several members of the European Union. Ireland did so in 2008 as a way to boost revenue and reduce its fiscal deficits. Yet some are now pulling back. Earlier this month, Australian legislators voted to end their nation's carbon tax.

"Climate change is a highly politicized issue, and we find strong evidence of a partisan divide," says the report by Barry Rabe, Christopher Borick and the late David Amdur, noting Democrats are more supportive of all three policies in the survey than Republicans. Still, they say a carbon tax that's paired with renewable energy funding gets majority support across the political spectrum.

The telephone survey of 798 U.S. adults was conducted from March 2 through April 9 and has a margin of error of plus/minus 3.5 percentage points.

Polls have repeatedly shown broad U.S. support for renewable energy. Last year, a USA TODAY/Stanford University poll found that 91% of U.S. adults say it's a "good idea" to generate electricity from sunlight and 84% say the same for wind but only 33% feel that way about nuclear power and 21% about coal.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Poll: 60% back carbon tax if used for renewables

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