WASHINGTON – During the Democratic President’s primary election, James T. Kunz, who heads the Union of Plant Engineers in western Pennsylvania, feared the party would elect a candidate determined to cripple the natural gas industry that is making the livelihoods of thousands of Pennsylvanian compatriots Has.
And in the past few weeks, President Trump has repeatedly told voters like Mr Kunz that Democrats did just that. Joseph R. Biden Jr. will forbid the extraction of gas by fracking or fracking, he and Vice President Mike Pence have said time and again – regardless of what the former Vice President said otherwise.
“I feel very good when I support Joe Biden,” said Kunz.
Mr. Trump has lagged behind in the polls, trying to regain the dominance of the white working class that narrowed the upper Midwest for him in 2016. He made fracking one last breath. His campaign has taken advantage of confusing statements Mr Biden made about fracking, despite his consistent position that he will not work to ban the practice.
Mr Pence, in his debate with Senator Kamala Harris, charged that a Biden administration would ban fracking no less than five times.
But it doesn’t seem to be gaining enough traction where Mr. Trump needs it most, in Pennsylvania. Recent surveys show that Mr Biden is in what is perhaps the most important swing state with a lead of 13 percentage points.
Mr. Kunz is one of more than half a dozen union officials in western Pennsylvania and members of the Steamfitters Union, the builders and builders union, who told the New York Times earlier this year that they couldn’t tell their members to vote for a candidate who advocated a fracking ban but has sided with Mr Biden in recent weeks. Each of them had expressed concern that the Democratic Party had been hostile to the fossil fuel industry when it pushed for the development of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.
However, in interviews earlier this month, they said they took Mr. Biden at his word that fighting climate change would not be an attack on the natural gas industry.
“On the day that they can supply the US economy with energy-saving sun and wind, then thank God,” said Kenneth Broadbent, managing director of Steamfitters Local 449, who approved of Mr. Biden. “But they’re going to need natural gas, and Biden understands that.”
The alliance between workers from western Pennsylvania and Liberal Democrats remains troubled.
“Fracking is actually bad,” tweeted New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the main sponsor of the progressive Green New Deal, who co-chaired Mr Biden’s Climate Change Task Force, after the vice-presidential debate.
Criticizing Ms. Harris’s performance during the vice-presidential debate, Evan Weber, political director of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led group of climate activists, said: “The American people want climate action, and polls show Democrats have no reason to shrink away of being brave. “
Stay informed about the 2020 election
And even in Pennsylvania, there is evidence that fracking may not be the dominant issue that both Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden seem to believe.
Several union leaders and members who said they support Mr Biden said the Trump administration had made policy decisions that adversely affected their way of life, such as reshaping the courts with conservative judges opposing laws protecting union wages at federal government-funded Projects are.
“Four more years of President Trump will only ruin our pensions,” said Thomas R. Melcher, executive director of the Pittsburgh Regional Building Trades Council, an umbrella organization for construction unions.
Mr Melcher has ticked off a list of what he believes to be failed promises by Mr Trump: to bring production back, save coal and deliver an extensive infrastructure package.
“He says a lot of things, but everything that comes out of his mouth is a lie,” said Mr Melcher of the president.
But even union leaders who support Mr. Biden have recognized that their base is divided. And at least one powerful union leader, Shawn Steffee, a sales representative and board member of Boilermakers Local 154, has spoken out heavily for Mr. Trump.
“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris don’t want anything to do with the fossil fuel industry. He’s done a flip-flop so many times, and President Trump has chosen fossil fuels, natural gas and coal, “said Steffee.
As a 35-year-old Democrat, before voting for Mr Trump in 2016, Mr Steffee said he plans to re-elect Republicans and believes most of his membership will, too. Her main topic: energy.
“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were completely unclear,” Steffee said, citing a comment Mr. Biden made last year that he would “end fossil fuels” despite vowing to protect fracking. “You can’t have it both ways,” said Mr. Steffee, adding, “my members and my local, we’ve finished riding the fence. We have taken a stand.”
Charlie Gerow, a Republican strategist in Pennsylvania, said the line of scrimmage of the Trump campaign was working.
“I think Trump, tying Biden to the Green New Deal, works not just in areas where fracking matters, but across the state. I think it helps Trump in the suburbs, ”he said. He turned down the polls that put Mr. Biden in double digits in Pennsylvania.
“That’s exactly where it was four years ago. Donald Trump has always outperformed polls in Pennsylvania and surely outperformed them, “Gerow said.
G. Terry Madonna, Professor of Political Science at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, conducts frequent polls in the state and sees a key difference between 2020 and 2016: Hillary Clinton paid little attention to white working-class voters when she campaigned while Mr. Biden makes her a unique focus.
Mr Trump “is not doing as well in these old mining and milling towns as it was four years ago,” said Mr Madonna, “and he’s getting hammered in the suburbs,” in large part due to his treatment of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Madonna said he was skeptical of the importance of fracking in national elections. But he noted, “If you win with 44,000 voters,” as Mr. Trump did in Pennsylvania four years ago, “you have to be careful because one little thing can make a difference here or there.”
Ms. Harris was an original co-sponsor of the Green New Deal when it was proposed as a resolution, and in the Democratic primary, her platform included a ban on fracking. Mr Biden said the Green New Deal was “a critical framework for addressing the climatic challenges we are facing” but did not endorse it. His plan is to spend $ 2 trillion over four years to promote clean energy and eliminate fossil fuel emissions from the energy sector by 2035.
He has pledged to end new permits for hydraulic fracturing in states and waters, but said that fracking “must continue because we need a transition” to renewable energies.
“The Green New Deal is not my plan,” said Biden during the presidential debate last month. When asked in the vice-presidential debate what the Biden administration’s position would be on the Green New Deal, Ms. Harris did not reply.
In western Pennsylvania, union members who support Mr. Biden said they wanted to help fight climate change and continue to build gas infrastructures. They said they believe that Mr. Biden will find a way to do both.
“The Democratic Party must be in the middle of the road. We are for jobs. We are for energy. We are for people who create a civic way of life, ”said Broadbent.
Jim Harding, an Alleghany County steam fitter who has worked on gas sites for 30 years, said he leans toward Mr. Biden and the Trump campaign’s attacks on fracking have not affected him. He was not concerned that after his term in office, Mr Biden would work with more liberal Democrats to eliminate gas and other fossil fuels.
“I think we have his ear,” said Mr. Harding, adding, “if not he’ll hear from us, believe me.”