Recent head-to-head polling shows Joe Biden leading President Trump in Pennsylvania, oftentimes outside the poll’s margin of error. But three small words at the last presidential debate could be enough to cost him the election in November.
“No new fracking,” Biden said in his March 15 face-off with Senator Bernie Sanders, a simple and direct promise that evoked another three word campaign pledge from a previous era: “No new taxes.”
The Pennsylvania GOP tweeted the remark without commentary, as if to show Biden’s words had their own kind of fracturing ability.
Born in Scranton and growing up in neighboring Delaware, Biden has long considered the Keystone State his second home. His pledge, however, draws into question whether he is taking the state’s 20 Electoral College votes for granted.
Political science professor Jeff Brauer of Keystone College says the effort by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I) to draw Biden leftward has worked, even as the Democratic Party had largely rallied around Biden precisely for his moderate status.
“Biden seemed to go further left in abortion rights, free public higher education, and most importantly in energy production, fracking,” Brauer told Delaware Valley Journal.
Just a few weeks earlier, Democrats in that state were going to bat for the former vice president, defending him against other Democratic contenders specifically on energy issues.
“Certain Democratic presidential candidates have promised to ‘ban fracking,’ and I’ve publicly criticized them for doing so,” Rep. Connor Lamb wrote in the Wall Street Journal back in February. “Vice President Biden has criticized them, too. He has explicitly promised not to ban fracking, and when confronted by an activist who was upset with his position, Mr. Biden told him plainly: “You ought to vote for someone else.'”
Pennsylvania, in what seems destined to become lore in American political history now, was one of the three states whose turn to Trump in 2016 proved decisive, along with Michigan and Wisconsin. But while other blue states have looked for non-fossil fuel options because of climate change concerns, Pennsylvania Democrats are resisting that shift.
Currently, Democrat lawmakers in the state are preparing, if needed, for their first-ever override of an expected veto from Governor Tom Wolf on a bill offering tax breaks to companies that use Pennsylvania-produced natural gas to produce things like fertilizer or chemicals.
Dave Spiglemyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, said the numbers behind the jobs explain the politics.
“Banning the safe and strongly regulated use of hydraulic fracturing would bring our economy to a standstill,” Spiglemyer told the Delaware Valley Journal in an email.
“It would result is the loss of hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs and wipeout billions of dollars of capital investment in Pennsylvania while reversing the environmental progress we have gained thanks to natural gas,” he added, while alluding to what he believes are reduced energy bills in the state..
“Supporting and growing domestic shale production should be a core focus of any serious policy discussion aimed at continuing environmental progress, economic growth and American security.”
Bauer said the global developments surrounding the Covid-19 crisis may only serve to make Biden’s pledge that much more impactful down the road, as the Trump campaign will repeat the video over and over in Pennsylvania television ads.
“Biden won’t win the presidency without PA and in order to win, he needs to play up being a moderate and avoid the tendency to try to appease the far left of his party,” said Bauer. “This lesson will become even more important as the corona panic impacts the economy of the rustbelt. A candidate who further threatens that economy and the livelihoods of voters will have a difficult time winning in November.”
A January report from the New York Times was headlined, “In Crucial Pennsylvania, Democrats Worry a Fracking Ban Could Sink Them,” as Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren continued to appeal to environmentalists.
While it seems plain that the front-line frackers peppered across the Marcellus are probably less than happy with Biden’s pledge, how do unions in the southeast portion of the state feel?
There, unions have celebrated contracts signed last year to begin new construction at the Marcus Hook Industrial complex which is the shipping point for liquified natural gas. Pipeline jobs are also necessary appendages to such an operation.
The International Brothers Electrical Workers Local 654 and the Steamfitters 420 unions did not return phone calls and emails requesting comment.
An op-ed from Steamfitters business manager Jim Gallagher seemed to make the issue clear, highlighting a conference in October of last year in which, “President Trump himself flew from Washington to address the crowd, honoring the flourishing energy industry and the unions and trades that make it all possible.”
“The fact is that we need to build more infrastructure in Pennsylvania – and beyond – to realize the potential of the energy we were blessed with right below our feet,” Gallagher wrote in conclusion “The jobs associated with Mariner East [pipeline] are transformational for our members and their families, and we are ready to keep up the momentum for the decades to come.”