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New Research Suggests Attitudes Towards Environment in SE Kentucky are Shifting

New research on residents of two counties in southeastern Kentucky show the area’s attitude about the environment has changed since the recession. Researchers with the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire surveyed residents in Harlan and Letcher counties in 2007, then returned this year to see whether and how beliefs have changed.Jessica Ulrich is a doctoral student in sociology at the University of New Hampshire and the author of the report. She says one of the most striking differences between the two sets of data is the changing attitude toward the environment—in 2007, only 17 percent thought that laws restricting development were bad for the community. By 2011, that number had nearly doubled to 33 percent.“What we’re seeing is that people are becoming less supportive of regulations that protect the natural environment,” she said. “I believe this is tied to the fact that people are looking for ways to create new jobs and zoning laws or regulations are seen as preventing new jobs from being created.”There was also an increase of 15 percentage points—from 37 to 52 percent—among those who thought resources should be used to create jobs, rather than conserved for future generations.The Carsey Institute is conducting similar research in rural communities across the country, but Harlan and Letcher counties are the only communities in Appalachia to be surveyed.