Biden woos workers in Pennsylvania, but his policies may hurt him in the energy-producing state

Democrats in the key swing state have been distancing themselves from Biden’s LNG pause. With 19 electoral votes at stake, winning Pennsylvania could play a large role in winning the election in November. Pennsylvania is the third-largest producer of energy in the nation.

President Joe Biden was campaigning Wednesday in the key swing state of Pennsylvania, hoping to galvanize a populist appeal with promises to back the working class.

Pennsylvania polls show slim margins between Biden and his likely opponent, former President Donald Trump, and with 19 electoral votes at stake, winning Pennsylvania could play a large role in who wins the election in November.

Biden spoke Wednesday at the United Steelworkers union, promising to take a number of actions to protect the industry, including tripling tariff rates on Chinese steel and aluminum imports. He also took the opportunity to paint his presumptive opponent in the coming fall election as the enemy of the working class.

“My predecessor rolled back protections for American workers. He opposed the increase overall for federal minimum wage. He put union busters on the National Labor Relations Board,” Biden said.

Energy state

For the rhetoric to be convincing, it will need to overcome the perception that his energy policies are harming the people Biden is promising to champion. Perhaps the most damaging policy was his decision in January to pause liquified natural gas export licenses.

With approximately 123,000 jobs tied to the industry, according to the Marcellus Shale Coalition, in addition to $41 billion in state economic activity, Democrats in the state have been distancing themselves from Biden’s LNG pause. Gov. Josh Shapiro told Bloomberg in March that the pause should be limited. Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senators Bob Casey and John Fetterman released a joint statement in February saying Biden’s decision puts energy jobs at risk.

“Pennsylvania is an energy state. 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,” the senators said.

In the previous elections in which Trump was on the ballot, the outcome was close. In 2016, Trump beat out Democrat Hillary Clinton by 0.7% of the total votes over Clinton, and in 2020, Biden won Pennsylvania with 1.2% of the total votes over Trump.

The average of six of the latest polls, according to 270toWin, show Biden ahead by 2 percentage points over Trump. On the ground in the Keystone State, however, Republicans say that the working class has soured on Democrats.

Rep. Joshua Kail, a Republican whose district sits west of Pittsburgh, told Just The News that the blue collar workers of the state have been moving away from the Democratic party for a long time. He said 20 years ago, his district was solidly Democrat, but the last time he had a Democrat running against him he won by 20%.

“And it's not because they love Republicans in my district, it's because they hate Democrats. And the reason they hate Democrats is because Democrats sold them down the river. They said they were for working people, and then they started supporting policies that destroy the jobs and opportunities for working people. And it wasn't just the natural gas industry, but it's also in the coal industry. It's energy in general,” Kail said.

Worker representatives

The Pennsylvania House Republicans held a hearing earlier this month to get testimony from trade representatives on the impacts of Biden’s decision to pause LNG export licenses, as well as the Biden administration’s energy policies in general.

State Rep. Martina White, a Republican whose district is in Philadelphia, said that she had chaired a task force that examined the potential for an LNG export terminal in southeast Pennsylvania, which could create tens of thousands of jobs and billions in yearly economic output.

For any such project anywhere in the U.S. to happen, it requires a lot of risky investment. Kail said in an interview that’s where Biden’s LNG pause has the most immediate impact. It creates uncertainty, which makes it hard to get investors.

At the hearing, Robert Bair, president Pennsylvania State Building and Construction Trades, said that for the last five years, the workers he represents have been struggling to find work.

“That's unacceptable. I've had this very conversation with your counterparts across the aisle. I've had this conversation at length with the governor. Gas has to be a big part of this. We need LNG, we need LNG in PA,” he said. Bair also spoke of the opposition to pipelines, usually out of concern for safety, and how that has also prevented projects from being built that would have provided workers with jobs.

“You want me to put a pipeline safe in the ground for you with my people, I'd be happy to. Because it's my kids at the bus stop. You can bet it's going to be the best weld you've ever seen in your life,” Bair said.

John Bane, director of government affairs for EQT, a natural gas company, told the committee that the pause impacts thousands of jobs and millions in economic impacts to the state of Pennsylvania. The industry, Bane said, provides $1 billion in annual payments to landowners, and the taxes the company pays supports school, hospitals and roads.

“This President's pause on new LNG authorizations is clearly a political stunt, orchestrated to satisfy a vocal minority of individuals who simply want to end the industry,” Bane said.

Rhetoric versus actions

The Wall Street Journal earlier this month profiled two brothers who grew up in the Pittsburgh area, which lost 200,000 steel and manufacturing jobs over the last few generations. The brothers settled into white collar jobs, and one became a progressive Democrat. The other turned into “staunch Republican.”

Biden’s LNG pause, his killing the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and his hostility to hydraulic fracturing, a technology that turned American into a net exporter of natural gas, the Journal wrote, have turned many voters tied to the state’s energy industries against the Democratic candidate.

Kail pointed out that the rationale for Biden’s policies is concern about emissions, but natural gas has played a key role in the U.S. being a leader in emissions reductions — while maintaining a high GDP. The ability to export American LNG, he said, also displaces the use of coal in Europe, which increases the emissions-reduction impact globally.

“Democrats have embraced this phony narrative, where the only way to reduce emissions is to use Chinese-produced energy that has a massive carbon footprint when it's made, and to prop up those industries instead of using our own natural resources that are in fact reducing our carbon emissions,” Kail said.

The Pennsylvania Republican said that in terms of rhetoric, natural gas is a nonpartisan issue. But when it comes to actions, Kail said, it becomes partisan. “The Democrat party knows that it's political suicide to go against energy industry in Pennsylvania. So they act like they support it during campaign time. But they do nothing to support the industry or to celebrate or leverage the industry to get the most out of it,” he said.

Biden campaigned for the 2020 election on a promise to “end fossil fuels.” On his campaign stop in Pennsylvania Wednesday, Biden spoke of advancing manufacturing in clean energy in the U.S. He made no mention of natural gas, and he mentioned oil when talking about how his father worked in the industry. We’ll find out in November if Pennsylvania voters were sold on the promises.