Sunday, 25 Oct 2020

Trump’s ‘Frack’ Attack on Biden Seems to Be Falling Short

By Lisa Friedman

WASHINGTON — During the Democratic presidential primaries, James T. Kunz, who leads the operating engineers union in Western Pennsylvania, worried the party would choose a nominee determined to cripple the natural gas industry that has boosted the livelihoods of thousands of fellow Pennsylvanians.

And in recent weeks, President Trump has repeatedly told voters like Mr. Kunz that Democrats had done just that. Joseph R. Biden Jr. will ban the extraction of gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, he and Vice President Mike Pence have said, over and over — nevermind that the former vice president has said otherwise.

Mr. Kunz isn’t buying it.

“I’m very comfortable endorsing Joe Biden,” Mr. Kunz said.

Lagging in the polls and looking to regain the white, working-class dominance that narrowly delivered the Upper Midwest to him in 2016, Mr. Trump has made fracking something of a last gasp. His campaign has taken advantage of confusing statements that Mr. Biden has 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, lobbed the accusation that a Biden administration would ban fracking no fewer than five times.

But it does not appear to be gaining enough traction where Mr. Trump needs it most, in Pennsylvania. Recent polls show Mr. Biden with a 13-percentage point lead in perhaps the most important swing state.

Mr. Kunz is one of more than a half-dozen Western Pennsylvania union officials and members with the steamfitters union, the builder’s guild and construction union who had told The New York Times early this year they would not be able to tell their members to vote for a candidate who supported a fracking ban, but who in recent weeks have sided with Mr. Biden. Each of them had expressed concern that the Democratic Party had turned hostile to the fossil fuel industry as they pressed for the development of renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.

But in interviews this month, they said they took Mr. Biden at his word that addressing climate change would not amount to an attack on the natural gas industry.

“The day they can feed the United States economy energy wise with solar and wind, then thank God for it,” said Kenneth Broadbent, business manager of the Steamfitters Local 449 who has endorsed Mr. Biden. “But they’re going to need natural gas, and Biden understands that.”

The alliance between Western Pennsylvania workers and liberal Democrats remains uneasy.

“Fracking is bad, actually,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, the lead sponsor of the progressive Green New Deal who served as a co-chairwoman of Mr. Biden’s climate change task force, tweeted after the vice-presidential debate.

Evan Weber, political director of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led group of climate activists, criticized Ms. Harris’ performance during the vice-presidential debate, saying “the American people want climate action, and polls show Democrats have no reason to shy away from being bold.”

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