A majority of Virginians oppose reducing environmental regulations overall, and by a 2-to-1 ratio they oppose any action that could increase pollution to waterways and the Chesapeake Bay, according to a new survey.

The survey, conducted for the Virginia Environmental Endowment, found that while state residents strongly support Gov. George Allen -- 69 percent approve of the job he is doing while 27 percent disapprove -- 55 percent also worry that some of the deregulatory efforts he supports may be going "too far" and threaten the environment and public health.

"The poll shows a consistent and deep-rooted concern for the environment among Virginians -- regardless of region or politics," said endowment Executive Director Gerald P. McCarthy.

"The poll dramatically shows that Virginians don't want their environmental regulations and protection reduced," McCarthy said. "They strongly believe that reform should emphasize flexibility rather than cutting back on standards."

The Virginia Environmental Endowment, a nonpartisan private foundation based in Richmond, sponsored a random poll of 1,000 likely Virginia voters. Dick Morris Associates of Redding, Conn., conducted the statewide telephone poll May 18-21. Results carried a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points on some questions and plus or minus 4.5 percentage points on others. The poll results were released in late June.

Morris is a consultant who usually works for Republican candidates, although in recent months he has been advising President Clinton. Morris reportedly has advised the president to take a harder line on environmental protection, and is said to have encouraged the veto threatened for the House-passed Clean Water Act [See June 1995 Bay Journal].

Allen has angered environmentalists by pushing a pro-business agenda that stresses decreased regulation. He has taken the EPA to court over two issues: automobile pollution controls and the permitting process for industrial discharges.

In the poll, 73 percent agreed that there was too much government regulation in the country and that it should be reduced. In addition, 64 percent said they agreed with most of the ideas in the Republican's Contract with America, which has served as a guide to congressional efforts to reduce regulation. But only 41 percent agreed that government regulation of the environment should be reduced, while 55 percent disagreed.

When asked about specific areas, 76 percent opposed cutting regulations for toxic and hazardous wastes; 71 percent opposed cutting water pollution regulations; 71 opposed cutting drinking water regulations; 63 percent opposed cutting protection for wetlands and coastal areas; 61 percent opposed cutting air pollution regulations; and 59 percent opposed reducing protection for historic sites and parks.

After being read that list of potential areas for decreased regulation, opposition to reduced environmental regulation grew from 55 percent to 63 percent. Even those who generally agree with the Contract with America opposed reductions in water pollution regulation by 64 percent to 31 percent -- more than 2-to-1.

Those who favored less regulation also indicated a preference for reform over cutbacks, the polling firm noted in its report.

When given a three-way choice of cutting back environmental regulations, leaving them alone, or reforming them, only 6 percent chose to cut back on regulations, while 54 percent supported reform and 39 percent said the regulations should be left alone.

When asked about what kinds of reform they supported, 88 percent backed planning for development and economic growth in such a way that it doesn't endanger the environment; 83 percent said industry should be brought into the regulatory decision-making process so their needs could be recognized; and 31 percent said that businesses should reduce pollution in their own way with minimum standards.

The poll also asked about a number of environmental issues specific to Virginia:

  • The state General Assembly is considering a statute that would provide compensation to landowners when environ-mental and land use restrictions limit development on their property. Such compensation was supported by 41 percent, and opposed by 51 percent.
  • Virginia does not allow citizens to sue government agencies over air and water discharge permits being issued. When asked, 62 percent said citizens should be able to sue agencies to challenge those permits, while 29 percent said they should not.
  • Virginia has considered designating portions of five streams and rivers as "outstanding waters" where no new discharges would be permitted. The Allen administration has opposed the designation because it could deprive property owners along the waterways full use of their land. When asked, 44 percent agreed with the administrationÕs position and 47 percent were opposed.
  • Some have suggested that the management of state parks be turned over to private enterprise to cut costs and improve services. But Virginians rejected that idea, 66 percent to 27 percent.
  • The General Assembly this year approved a law to encourage businesses to clean up their environmental problems by exempting them from penalties, fines and civil lawsuits if they voluntarily report problems and commit to solving them. Supporters of the "environmental audit" law say that businesses are reluctant to look for environmental problems for fear of triggering fines and penalties. But critics say the exemption in the state law is too broad because it does not require businesses to fix problems or establish timetables for doing so. When asked, 57 percent opposed the law, and 33 percent supported it.
  • By 69 percent to 24 percent, Virginians opposed any loosening of the state's water discharge standards which could threaten rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

The poll found that a plurality of Virginians -- 44 percent -- thought the environment in Virginia was improving, while 22 percent thought it was getting worse.