Progressive Democrats in Delaware and Chester Counties were swept into office in 2018 over incumbent Republicans, thanks in part to pipeline politics. Issues with the construction of the Mariner East Two pipeline and the political potency of climate change combined to elect Rep. Danielle Friel Otten in Chester County and Sen. Katie Muth in Chester/Montgomery.
Following the trend, Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf pushed past the GOP-controlled legislature in 2019 to add Pennsylvania to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), insisting it was necessary “given the urgency of the climate crisis facing Pennsylvania and the entire planet.”
In 2022, however, pipeline politics have shifted. Soaring energy costs, rising inflation, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have Democrats talking very differently about energy policy – when they talk about it at all.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro, for example, has repeatedly refused to say if he would support keeping Pennsylvania in the RGGI. And instead of denouncing fossil fuels, the Democratic candidate for governor is taking a broader approach on energy policy.
“I will be an all-of-the-above energy governor who will take advantage of the unique position we have in Pennsylvania to create more jobs, while also utilizing our natural resources and protecting the jobs we already have,” Shapiro told DVJournal.
That may be one reason the Boilermakers Local 154 union endorsed Shapiro over pro-fossil-fuel Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano.
Mastriano tells DVJournal he favors oil and natural gas production and would like to see a liquid natural gas (LNG) plant built in Philadelphia, creating jobs with its construction and operation.
“Europe relies heavily on Russia for its oil and gas. An LNG export terminal will allow Pennsylvania to export our valuable natural gas to this crucial market,” Mastriano said. “Thousands of new jobs will be created in the Philadelphia area, especially for those in the building trades. Additionally, new revenue from the exports will be reinvested into the Pennsylvania economy. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
It is hardly a surprise that a conservative Republican like Mastriano supports more energy infrastructure. What is interesting is the shift among Democrats, including those on the progressive left.
President Joe Biden may be restricting access to federal oil and gas leases and shutting down major pipelines, but in Pennsylvania, even a progressive like U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman has abandoned his previous calls for a ban on fracking. Nor does he still talk about implementing a “carbon cap” tax policy that could have raised gas prices to about $7 a gallon.
At a more local level, anti-pipeline warriors like Muth and Friel Otten appear to have moved on. Friel Otten famously made comments about local pipeline workers, comparing them to Nazis, a statement denounced by the Anti-Defamation League and her own Chester County Democratic Party. Friel Otten eventually apologized, albeit reluctantly.
As recently as this year, Friel Otten joined with Muth in an effort to shut down the completed Mariner East 2 pipeline, making complaints that turned out to be unfounded. But as the election has approached, those Democrats have been largely silent on pipeline and energy infrastructure issues.
Today, the word “pipeline” doesn’t appear anywhere on Muth’s campaign website. There are only vague references “corporate polluters.”
What happened? Muth and Friel Otten declined to respond to requests for comment. But Muth’s GOP opponent, Jessica Florio, was more than happy to talk about her support for expanding the state’s energy economy. And she has won the endorsement of the Philadelphia Building Trades.
“Actions speak louder than words,” said Jim Snell, Business Manager, Steamfitters Local Union 420. “Sen. Muth talks about her support for working men and women, but then she turns around and votes repeatedly against jobs for union workers. We want someone we can trust. Florio will defend the rights of working men and women and push policies that will create jobs and help union workers.”
Republican strategist Charlie O’Neill said Democrats’ energy policy sounds good in speeches to green activists, but it fails the real-world test for voters who want reliable, affordable power.
“The concerns raised by Democrats on pipelines aren’t based in reality,” said O’Neill. “Fossil fuels are and will remain the main source of energy in Pennsylvania, the United States, and the world. At a time when energy prices continue to rise, voters believe Democrats and Republicans should be working to make the transportation and production of energy as easy as possible.”
Snell puts it more bluntly. “People who oppose pipelines should turn off their gas furnaces this winter. They won’t, of course. But they’ll still try to have it both ways, complaining about infrastructure development while benefiting from the energy it delivers. It’s the height of hypocrisy.”
Shapiro said he believes there is a third way between the “leave it in the ground” absolutism of the far left and the “Drill, baby, drill” mantra of some on the right.
“I refuse to accept the false choice between protecting jobs or protecting our planet – we can, and we must, do both. And my priority will be ensuring that Pennsylvania has a comprehensive climate and energy policy that moves us all forward. As governor, I will bring everyone around the table to implement an energy strategy that does just that.”
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