(This article first appeared in the American Spectator)
Mercer County, Pennsylvania—Attending the annual Civil War reenactment here this past weekend, I half-expected a mob of crazed progressives to show up shouting “RACISTS!!!” at the mock Confederate soldiers. But this was clearly a Trump crowd, as evidenced by the guy next to me wearing a red-white-and-blue t-shirt heralding “GOD GUNS TRUMP.” He was hardly atypical.
Also evident throughout this territory are, frankly, an extraordinary number of Trump-Pence signs—far more, it seems, than even in November 2016, when Trump beat Hillary in Pennsylvania. On my rural street alone, nearly every other house has a Trump sign or flag. Take a left onto the main road and there are massive signs of buildings, like this one: “BUY AMERICAN HIRE AMERICAN VOTE TRUMP.” Think about that. Thirty years ago, a comparable sign here in the Rustbelt would have urged: “BUY AMERICAN HIRE AMERICAN VOTE DEMOCRAT.” Not anymore.
Most striking, on my way to the office, just blocks from the old, abandoned Bessemer plant, I pass two flags (thus far) that insist, “TRUMP 2020: NO MORE BULLSHIT.”
Two months ago, Donald Trump’s numbers in Pennsylvania didn’t look good. Now, given this sudden grassroots groundswell, I’m convinced Biden is the one in trouble. That’s no B.S. And it’s Biden’s leftward lurch that has hurt him, especially with the highly ill-advised pick of Kamala Harris, who folk in this area see as a West Coast leftist whose “progressive” bona fides include an unwavering opposition to fracking.
Yes, fracking. Do not underestimate the significance of that issue to this region, and to the kind of guys posting the signs I’m describing. These guys are not white-collar businessmen. No, these are the blue collar, big labor, union hardhats that the Democratic Party once owned. They are totally for Trump.
Fracking is a relatively new procedure for oil and natural gas production, based on a process of hydraulic fracturing that extracts gas and oil from shale rock. It has been a huge job producer and energy saver for countless citizens throughout Pennsylvania, especially in western Pennsylvania (and for eastern Ohio as well). For thousands of young men, whose fathers and grandfathers and great grandfathers worked in the mills and the mines, these jobs have been a lifeline.
“[Pennsylvania] is one of the most robust economies in the country,” Jeff Nobers, executive director of the Builders Guild of Western Pa., told the New York Times. “And it’s mostly fueled by, yeah, the gas industry, the burgeoning petrochemical industry, manufacturing.” The Times also quoted Jim Kunz, business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 66: “I can tell you, in 2010, my local was at about 10% unemployment. Natural gas started to come here in about 2010. Within a year to a year and a half, we went from 10% unemployment to actually over-employment. I had to look for people. We went to full employment, and we’ve been at or near full employment, and occasionally over employed. … If we end up with a Democratic candidate that supports a fracking ban, I am going to tell my members that they either don’t vote or vote for the other guy.”
Pennsylvania workers realize this. Pennsylvania citizens realize this. Pennsylvania voters realize this.
Joe Biden has struggled to stake a position on fracking that appeals to moderates and to liberals, knowing how crucial Pennsylvania is to his campaign. His position plainly has not been clear, and was subject to a tune-up again this past week. Like on so many issues during the primary (see: Biden and the Hyde Amendment on abortion), Biden very disappointingly allowed his party’s extremists to push him into hard-left stances that he now will regret.
“No more, no new fracking,” said Biden in March, alongside Bernie Sanders. That remark has been charitably interpreted by Biden apologists as no new licenses under a Biden administration—i.e., he would leave the door open to existing fracking, but, by golly, no more after that!
Kamala Harris, however, opposes fracking, period. “There’s no question, I’m in favor of banning fracking,” Harris stated to loud liberal applause in a CNN presidential townhall on Climate Change in September 2019.
In the state of Pennsylvania, that’s an outrageous position for a politician. It’s not only a job killer but a vote killer, which is why Biden scurried to Pittsburgh this week to insist, “I am not banning fracking. Let me say that again. I am not banning fracking no matter how many times Donald Trump lies about me.”
This is Donald Trump’s fault, Joe?
Here again, Biden defenders tried to rush to his rescue. “Biden’s climate plan calls for ending new oil and gas leases on public lands, but it would not ban oil drilling and does not bar any specific method for extracting fossil fuels,” explained an unconvincing news report (not an op-ed, but a news article) in The Hill. “Biden’s climate plan wasn’t as bold as some of his earlier Democratic challengers, but it is still the most ambitious climate plan ever put forth by a presidential nominee. Included in that plan is a goal to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”
Oh, it’s ambitious alright. That’s what worries folks around these parts.
And then this from Biden in the Steel City this week: “We won’t just build things back the way they were before. We’re going to build them back better with good paying jobs building our nation’s roads, bridges, solar arrays, windmills.” This “clean energy strategy” has “a place for the energy workers right here in western Pennsylvania.”
Bunkum. Every hardhat in Western Pa. knows that’s a bunch of hot air. Windmills and “solar arrays” don’t mean jobs and everyone here knows it. Biden seemed to think he was in Seattle. Drive down the PA Turnpike, Joe, past Somerset on your way to Breezewood and back to Washington and gaze at the dead windmills pathetically jutting out of the ground. You’ll notice three things: they aren’t spinning, they ruin the beautiful natural landscape, and there aren’t men standing underneath them basking in wondrous “energy jobs.”
The already-booming energy industry in this area—that is, the real energy industry, not this bogus pie-in-the-sky windmill/solar-array nonsense—has big plans to get even bigger.
To note just one example, perhaps the largest construction project underway in North America right now is Shell Chemical’s new ethane cracker plant in Beaver County, just outside of Pittsburgh on the banks of the Ohio river. It’s located near Monaca, one of those iconic western Pennsylvania steel-towns that once thrived with smokestacks and football (think Mike Ditka, Joe Namath, Tony Dorsett, Pistol Pete Maravich in basketball) and Iron City Beer, and employed and sustained countless families for generations. Those jobs all disappeared, but the energy industry is bringing them back. The cracker plant is a $5 billion-plus project that when finished will create over 3,000 high-paying jobs. One industry analyst told me: “For every one of those jobs there will be an additional four or five jobs outside the plant that will provide services to the plant. The Shell project will create almost 20,000 jobs for western Pennsylvania. Fracking natural gas out of the Marcellus and Utica natural gas deposits will be critical to maintain the flow of feed stock to run the plant. A ban on fracking would no doubt have a huge impact on the future viability of the plant and its employees.”
Yes, a ban of fracking would do that. And hey, Joe, a position of “no new” licenses or whatever doesn’t seem very reassuring. Would that extend to the Shell cracker plant? How about future cracker plants?
This analyst, who asked to remain anonymous in order to stay out of the politics, spoke of the impact on the larger budget woes for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: “Beyond the above local impact of a ban on fracking would be the impact a state wide ban on fracking would have on the finances for the Pennsylvania state budget.” The legislature is grappling with a huge loss in revenue and massive expenditures. A ban on fracking will make this bad situation even worse, affecting everything from tax increases to the massively underfunded state pension system. “In short, a ban on fracking for natural gas in the state of Pennsylvania would be an act of financial suicide for the state budget and the local economy of western Pennsylvania,” says the analyst.
Of course, every politician in Pennsylvania, Republican or Democrat, knows this. But Team Biden was apparently oblivious, as demonstrated by the choice of Kamala Harris. The Biden campaign was hoodwinked by its liberal media’s own propaganda hailing Kamala as a “moderate.” Despite ridiculous attempts by the likes of the New York Times to frame Harris as a “pragmatic moderate,” she is anything but. She is literally perfectly liberal. Americans for Democratic Action, which ranks how liberal members of Congress are, gave Kamala perfect scores in 2017 and 2018. She scored 100/100. She could not have been more liberal. Conversely, the American Conservative Union, which ranks conservatism, gave Kamala a 3.03. Some moderate, eh?
The Biden campaign will pay a political price for allowing itself to be deceived. Just as a sobbing Elizabeth Warren and friends browbeat Joe into cowering and reversing himself on the Hyde Amendment a year ago, it’s now time for Biden to pay the progressive piper. Pick people like Kamala, Joe, and don’t be surprised if Democrats fear that you want to ban fracking. Why wouldn’t they be suspicious?
Look at this assessment from a fellow Democrat here in western Pennsylvania, Congressman Connor Lamb: “My advice is that they’re wrong [to ban fracking].… Energy jobs are middle-class jobs. People are working hard and buying their first house, putting their kids through school, on the jobs that have been provided by natural gas development and by the cracker plant.”
Another Democrat, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, adds: “No city in America has benefited more from the shale revolution in the last dozen years than Pittsburgh. We were one of the only regions in the country that did not experience the Great Recession back in 2008, because that’s when we discovered the Marcellus Shale.”
And still another Democrat, State Rep. Rob Matzie: “A candidate who wants to ban hydraulic fracturing cannot win the state.”
I’m hardly alone in noticing this. Biden-Harris’s big fracking problem has been flagged by multiple media sources. “Fracking has turned Pennsylvania into the nation’s second-largest producer of natural gas, making energy a jobs issue that could hinder Joe Biden’s path to the White House—with the choice of fracking-foe Kamala Harris as running mate adding yet another potential hurdle,” reports the Wall Street Journal, in a statement of the obvious.
This will hurt Biden in Pennsylvania. Donald Trump and his campaign knows it.
“She is against fracking!” said Donald Trump at the White House less than two hours after Biden named Harris, the San Francisco Democrat, as his running mate. “She’s against petroleum products. I mean, how do you do that and go into Pennsylvania or Ohio or Oklahoma or the great state of Texas? She’s against fracking. Fracking’s a big deal.”
It’s a big deal well beyond Pennsylvania. According to the American Petroleum Institute, “In 2022, job losses under a fracking ban could total 7.5 million—or 4.8% of total U.S. jobs—with nearly 2.5 million jobs lost in Texas, California and Florida. Other top states for job losses as a share of overall employment include North Dakota, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Wyoming, Louisiana, West Virginia and Kansas.”
Of these, “Pennsylvania would be among the states hardest hit, with more than 550,000 job losses in 2022 throughout the economy…. In Ohio, the projected negative impacts are similar, as the state could also lose more than 500,000 jobs in 2022.”
That’s a big, big deal.
It’s also a big deal to the Democratic Party union base that a Democrat like Joe Biden wants to count on rather than alienate and outrage.
“I am completely shocked and stunned about the language coming from Joe Biden, allegedly a union guy,” said Jim Snell, business agent for Steamfitters Local 420 in southeastern Pennsylvania, whose 4,600 members install piping systems in oil refineries, natural gas plants, and infrastructure projects. “The Democratic Party has kicked the building trades to the curb, and they are all in with the environment groups.”
Says Shawn Steffe, business agent for Boilermakers Local 154 in Pittsburgh: “Biden needs to steer his car out of the far-left ditch back to the middle if he wants us to support him. It’s not happening. I don’t see my members voting for someone who will take away their jobs and pensions over something that has a lot of half-truths to it.” Steffe, 53 years old, is a lifelong Democrat who voted for Trump in 2016 and intends to again in 2020.
To win Pennsylvania, Biden needs to appeal to assembly-line guys in pickup trucks, not Green New Deal socialists on scooters. From religious liberty to fracking, he blew it by picking Kamala Harris. It makes you wonder who’s advising him and who’s already pushing him to the hard left, even before he would get into the White House.
As for the polls, they’re showing the results. The latest Pennsylvania poll, by Monmouth, shows that “among likely voters, the race is a tight 1 to 3 points.”
Trump continues to move up in Pennsylvania and Biden continues to move down. Biden-Harris have a big problem in this crucial swing state.