Home Commodities Joe Biden's energy policies are boosting Donald Trump's campaign in Pennsylvania

Joe Biden's energy policies are boosting Donald Trump's campaign in Pennsylvania

by SuperiorInvest

When Donald Trump held a rally in rural Pennsylvania last week, he touched on familiar topics: immigration, his legal problems and rising prices. But he received the biggest applause when he promised to lift Joe Biden's ban on new natural gas exports, highlighting the policy's unpopularity in a critical swing state.

The White House's decision to suspend approvals for new liquefied natural gas projects has angered the shale gas industry, a major employer in Pennsylvania. It has also raised concern among local Democrats, who warn that a policy designed to appeal to young, climate-conscious voters could hurt Biden's campaign in a state that produces a fifth of the U.S. natural gas.

“I'm pretty tired of constantly worrying about someone in Washington, D.C., making a decision that affects my family in Fayette County,” said Nick Staffieri, waste management team leader for EQT Corporation, America's largest natural gas producer. USA.

“To see us potentially suspending LNG for political purposes is disheartening, really disheartening.”

Pennsylvania's electoral importance is illustrated by the fact that Biden spent three days in the state this week. On Wednesday he vowed to keep US Steel under American ownership and called for higher tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum imports in a bid to shore up union support.

Nick Staffieri stands in front of the water towers at one of EQT's natural gas wells in Washington County, Pennsylvania.
Nick Staffieri in front of water towers at one of EQT's natural gas wells in Washington County, Pennsylvania © Justin Merriman/FT

Hillary Clinton lost to Trump in Pennsylvania in 2016 by fewer than 45,000 votes, when large numbers of working-class voters who traditionally voted Democratic backed the Republican candidate. Biden, who was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, defeated Trump in the state in 2020 by just over 80,000 votes, or about 1 percentage point.

Blue-collar voters will again play an important role in November, as opinion polls show Biden with a very slight lead over Trump in the state. And there are signs that the pause in LNG approvals and other environmental laws hitting the gas industry are creating a bad mood among its 72,000 workers in Pennsylvania.

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Like many of the tens of thousands of shale industry workers, Staffieri has firsthand experience of the boom-and-bust nature of the sector. In 2020, he and his wife, who also works in Pennsylvania's gas industry, were laid off during the pandemic.

“We went from two very healthy salaries to zero,” said Staffieri, who has used his salary to improve a family farm.

Since then, the local economy has recovered and the unemployment rate of 3.4 percent is near historic lows. But industry and union leaders are concerned that the LNG pause could destabilize the gas industry, which faces challenges related to an oversupply that has caused prices to fall to three-year lows.

Producers EQT and Chesapeake are reducing production and some of Pennsylvania's best producing wells have been temporarily idle.

Joe Cyran, a Donald Trump supporter who owns a construction company, has posted campaign signs outside his business near Loretto, Pennsylvania.
Joe Cyran, a Donald Trump supporter who owns a construction company, has posted campaign signs outside his business near Loretto, Pennsylvania. © Joe Cyran

“If we're not building energy infrastructure and pipelines, I mean, that definitely has to hurt labor, jobs, pipelines, construction and union jobs,” said Shawn Steffee, business agent for Boilermakers Local 154 in Pittsburgh.

Unions played a major role in galvanizing their members to support Biden in 2020. In return, he has supported pro-union industrial policies that helped them reverse decades of declining membership in Pennsylvania last year.

Union leaders say Biden has done more for their movement than any previous president, but they warn that his policies targeting the gas industry could cause workers to shift their allegiance to Trump.

“My members are going to vote with their pocketbooks and the economy,” Steffee said.

Republican politicians in Pennsylvania have seized on the LNG halt, which resonates with a rural electorate of landowners, gas and coal workers who have overwhelmingly backed Trump in the recent presidential election.

“Energy is a huge opportunity for America and a huge opportunity for Pennsylvania and I think it's just been mishandled,” said David McCormick, Bridgewater's former boss and Republican candidate for US Senate in Pennsylvania.

Wellheads at one of EQT's natural gas well platforms in Washington County, Pennsylvania
Wellheads at one of EQT's natural gas platforms in Washington County, Pennsylvania © Justin Merriman/FT

During a visit to the Lackawanna College School of Petroleum and Natural Gas in the small town of Tunkhannock, near Scranton, McCormick alleged that Biden had perpetrated “a war on energy” that has undermined US security.

“Electric vehicles and solar are not better for workers,” he said.

Political analysts say the LNG issue and other energy-related issues could play a role in a close election in Pennsylvania by eliminating some undecided voters who work in these industries. But a host of other contentious issues, such as abortion, rising prices and immigration, would matter more broadly to the state's electorate, they say.

Matthew Kerbel, a political science professor at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, said one of the unusual factors in this election is that Biden's rival was a former president and not an untested rival. A sitting president typically runs based on his record and voters make their judgment on that, but this time could be different given Trump's record and legal difficulties, he said.

“If this election becomes a referendum on Trump, instead of a referendum on Biden? I think it will be a very important factor,” Kerbel said.

In rural Pennsylvania, support for Trump runs deep, with many homeowners displaying campaign signs in their front yards and bumper stickers on their cars.

“Trump was honest, he could have talked, but he was very honest,” said Joe Cyran, a 73-year-old builder who has posted pro-Trump signs outside his business. “The communist left is going after Trump.”

But Pennsylvania's major cities vote primarily Democratic, and in Scranton some Biden supporters are mobilizing in an effort to keep Trump out.

“When I heard Biden was coming to Scranton, I volunteered to sign people up for his speech,” said Sarah Cruz, a sales associate at Boscov's Department Store.

He said he always liked Biden for his moral character and did not want to live under a second Trump presidency, adding that “the soul of our nation is at stake.”

“Trump appointed three Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade. I mean, he had children separated from their parents and put in cages like animals. . . “His supporters really believe the election was stolen,” he said.

In Pittsburgh, another Democratic stronghold, some young voters appear disenchanted with Biden and Trump, citing their old age and political differences.

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“I think the way Biden and his administration are approaching the Palestine-Israel conflict is going to change a lot of young voters,” said Isabelle, a University of Pittsburgh student who did not want to give her full name.

“I think that with this election the better of two evils is almost chosen. I will vote for Biden and hope he carries out his student debt relief plans.”

Jim Lee, president of Susquehanna Polling and Research, said focus groups showed that many Biden voters were voting against Trump, rather than for Biden, while Trump voters were very enthusiastic about his candidacy.

“They don't like Trump. . . They hate it,” she said.

“Trump's challenge will be to expand beyond his base and at the moment he simply cannot do that.”

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