What a difference an election year makes.

Pennsylvania Democrat Sen. Bob Casey Jr. has been an outspoken advocate of climate policies designed to reduce the use of fossil fuels and cut carbon emissions. In 2022, he praised President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, saying the $369 billion in green spending “may have been the last chance” for federal action on climate change. Casey voted against a 2021 amendment to reverse Biden’s shutdown of the Keystone XL pipeline, and he’s even floated bringing back the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps to promote “climate change mitigation.”

But with a competitive general election looming in November and a well-funded GOP challenger, Casey signed a letter last week announcing his opposition to the Biden administration’s decision to pause liquid natural gas (LNG) exports.

“Pennsylvania is an energy state,” Casey and fellow Pennsylvania Democrat Sen. John Fetterman wrote. “As the second largest natural gas-producing state, this industry has created good-paying energy jobs in towns and communities across the commonwealth and has played a critical role in promoting U.S. energy independence.”

Fetterman and Casey worry the LNG pause might impact “thousands of jobs in Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry.” They vowed to push the administration to reverse the decision if it “puts Pennsylvania energy jobs at risk.”

It’s surprisingly strong language for Casey, who voted for Biden’s agenda 99.3 percent of the time last year, according to FiveThirtyEight.com.

Environmental groups were not pleased with the two Democrats’ statement.

“They are being hypocritical, and also they are sticking their head in the ground by ignoring/denying the climate impacts that are being caused by LNG exports and the fracking that fuels it,” said Tracy Carluccio of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) “They are also acting unproductively oppositional to President Biden who also said this pause will examine the community and economic impacts of these DOE authorizations for LNG export and that is inexcusable.”

Only one other Senate Democrat, green activist bête noire Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), openly criticized the Biden policy. Manchin chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and vowed to do everything possible to “end this pause immediately” if it’s proven the Biden administration was pandering to “keep-it-in-the-ground climate activists.”

Manchin isn’t seeking reelection, and there’s been talk that he may run for president as a centrist third-party candidate.

It’s a much different scenario for Casey, who is up for reelection this fall. His likely Republican opponent, Dave McCormick, wasted no time decrying Biden’s LNG pause.

“America and PA lead the world in Liquified Natural Gas, creating jobs for our people & allies for our country,” McCormick posted on social media hours after Biden’s announced the LNG pause last month. “Why is Bob Casey standing with [Biden] on this?”

Almost a week later, Casey announced his opposition.

Fetterman’s commitment to green energy shifted further. After twice signing the No Fossil Fuel Pledge, the alleged progressive said in 2022 that he supports fracking “as long as it’s done environmentally sound.” His Senate campaign claimed he never “supported a fracking ban” and wanted to “preserve the union way of life” for natural gas workers. However, Fetterman said in 2018, “I don’t support fracking.”

Environmental groups, including Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, Sierra Club of Pennsylvania, and PennFuture, declined to comment about the pro-fossil-fuel stance of their political allies. Instead,  Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter Director Tom Schuster said he was confident the federal review would prove LNG projects don’t “serve the public interest and will cancel them.” PennFuture said the pause was “a win for Philadelphia and Chester.”

Energy groups praised Casey and Fetterman for their willingness to break with Biden.

“The Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association agrees with the criticism by Sens. Casey and Fetterman of the effect on Pennsylvania jobs of President Bidens’s LNG export pause,” Kevin Moody, PIOGA General Counsel, told DVJournal. “But just as significant, and perhaps even more so, are the adverse effects on our national security and our ability to provide Europe and Asia with the LNG they need and will get from somewhere else.”

Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association President and CEO David Taylor called it electoral politics.

“I think the Biden administration just took a position so extreme that people had to protect their backsides and jump up and say, ‘No, I’m not, I’m not in favor of that,’” he told DVJournal.

Taylor still wondered if Casey’s recent public stance was sincere, given his record.

“[He] worked closely with Joe Biden …certainly in the Democrat primary in 2019 and 2020 [he] was all in for Joe Biden,” Taylor said. “If he’s looking to differentiate himself from [Biden], that may be an exceedingly difficult challenge.”

Carluccio suspects the move could hurt Casey at the ballot box this fall, particularly among environmentally conscious voters in the Delaware Valley.

“Those folks vote,” she said. “More and more people, as they become convinced that fracking is not what it’s made out to be…are going to speak through their vote.”

The U.S. Senate Energy Committee will hold a hearing Thursday on Biden’s LNG export pause.

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