The new Public Policy Institute of California poll on the environment shows that Californians continue to be strong for environmental protections, but standing up for the environment weakens when a price tag is attached.

While the poll covered a number of environmental issues, when pollsters asked follow-up questions involving possible cost increases for transportation fuels under the cap-and-trade proposal and for electricity under the renewable energy law attitudes changed dramatically.

Yet, on some other energy related issues such as fracking or carbon tax no follow-up questions on costs were asked.

Queried if oil companies should be required to produce transportation fuels with lower emissions, 76% of adults agreed. But when followed with the question: “Do you still favor this state law if it means an increase in gasoline prices at the pump?” support dropped to 39%. The drop off was particularly notable among those making less than $40,000 a year. While 77% supported reducing fuel emissions, the number fell to 32% when they learned they might have to pay more.

Similarly, 76% of adults favored the state law that calls for a third of the state’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources, but the support drops 30-points to 46% if that resulted in increased electricity costs.

The PPIC poll explored other energy issues but in those cases did not ask follow up questions dealing with economic consequences.

The poll tested the idea of a carbon tax on companies to reduce greenhouse gases. The proposal received 58%-33% support. However, there was no follow up question about support for a carbon tax if the tax meant an increase of costs on the products produced by the companies taxed.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, was opposed by 54% (36% supported). But what if fracking increased energy resources lowering the cost of energy? How would voters react to that possibility? The follow up question was not asked.

I asked PPIC president Mark Baldassare if the cost issue would affect poll respondents’ attitudes in these areas as they had on the transportation fuels and electricity issues.

Baldassare wrote: “It’s possible that we could find similar results with other survey questions. We did not follow up with cost issue questions for broader issues like carbon tax and fracking or, for that matter, cap and trade, the keystone pipeline, building more nuclear power plants, CA offshore oil drilling, etc.  We chose a few specific topics and may follow up with others in future PPIC surveys. What I thought was noteworthy about the two findings that surfaced in this poll was the majority support in the upper-income group and the drop in support below a majority in the lower-income groups.”

While the cost increases on the fuels won’t take effect until January 2015, expect them to be an issue in November’s election. If the plan is on track at election time those supporters of the fuel tax will be confronted with the cost issue – but since the cost will have yet to hit gas pumps, it is uncertain how effective that issue will be.

You can access the entire poll here.