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'Grotesquely Fitting' Say Climate Campaigners as Trump Mulls Pro-Fracking Executive Order Ahead of Election

Polling data doesn't support the idea that the issue is politically popular overall, and critics say the order would be "just one more desperate attempt by this White House to make fracking into a winning campaign issue."

President Donald Trump speaks to 5,000 contractors at the Shell Chemicals Petrochemical Complex on August 13, 2019 in Monaca, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump speaks to 5,000 contractors at the Shell Chemicals Petrochemical Complex on August 13, 2019 in Monaca, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

Climate campaigners and journalists called out President Donald Trump after the Wall Street Journal revealed late Tuesday—just a week before Election Day—that he is considering a last-minute executive order to promote fracking as an apparent ploy to win over undecided voters in battleground states such as Pennsylvania.

"There is something grotesquely fitting that an administration that has sacrificed climate action for the sake of the fossil fuel industry thinks fracking is a winner."
—Mitch Jones, Food & Water Action

Trump is weighing an order "mandating an economic analysis" of hydraulic fracturing, as the oil and gas extraction process is also called, according to the Journal. Unnamed officials told the newspaper that the work would be spearheaded by the U.S. Energy and Interior departments with input from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and Treasury Department.

The measure "would ask government agencies to perform an analysis of fracking's impact on the economy and trade and the consequences if the oil-and-gas extraction technique was banned," the Journal reported. "It also would order those agencies to evaluate what more they can do to expand its use, possibly through land management or support of developing technology."

Food & Water Action policy director Mitch Jones responded in a statement Wednesday declaring that "this order is just one more desperate attempt by this White House to make fracking into a winning campaign issue. There is no doubt that fracking poisons our air and water, and that drilling is driving us towards climate crisis. There is something grotesquely fitting that an administration that has sacrificed climate action for the sake of the fossil fuel industry thinks fracking is a winner."

"The truth is that the fracking industry is in collapse. Fracking has never been the economic engine that its backers have claimed it to be, and any attempts to resuscitate it are only delaying the inevitable," Jones continued. "Debt-ridden drilling companies have laid off thousands of workers while CEOs make off with millions in profits."

"Instead of looking for novel ways to bail out the frackers," he added, "political leaders who profess to have even the slightest concern for passing on a livable world to our children must work to wind down fossil fuels, and create a just transition for workers who can build the clean energy economy of the future."

As journalists like David Sirota and Andrew Perez at The Daily Poster have pointed out, the whole idea that fracking is somehow overwhelmingly popular among the electorate in states where it is prominent is largely a false premise.

Such a storyline, Sirota and Perez wrote last week, "isn't substantiated by empirical data. Indeed, the idea that a fracking ban is political poison in Pennsylvania is a fantastical tale fabricated by a national press corps that refuses to let public opinion data get in the way of fossil fuel propaganda and a manufactured narrative."

According to The Daily Poster:

A January poll of Pennsylvania voters from Franklin and Marshall University found that "more believe the environmental risks (49%) of natural gas drilling outweigh the economic benefits than believe the economic benefits outweigh the environmental risks (38%)." The same poll found that "more registered voters favor (48%) a ban on hydraulic fracturing than oppose it (39%)." Notably, the poll showed 54% of voters in the populous suburban swing counties of southeast Pennsylvania support a ban.

While Washington-based reporters remain loath to mention this data, the media in the state aren't: "Poll: Pennsylvanians Favor Statewide Ban On Fracking," read a local CBS headline that was apparently too inconvenient to be mentioned by the creators of the national media narrative. 

Since that poll emerged, another more recent poll illustrated much the same sentiment.

As Common Dreams reported Tuesday, with tens of millions of ballots already cast in next week's presidential election, new polling results showed that although U.S. voters nationwide are split on fracking, a majority supports shifting to renewable energy sources. Specifically, the survey found that 82% of voters believe the nation should be prioritizing a transition to 100% clean energy over the next few decades.

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Reporters at the Journal and beyond framed Trump's potential fracking order as a "not-so-subtle" attempt to steal votes from Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in key states and possibly advance the administration's dirty energy agenda in the event that Trump secures a second term.

While officials said discussions about the order or whether to even issue it are ongoing—and White House spokesperson Judd Deere declined to comment beyond touting Trump's efforts to make the United States "energy independent"—the Journal explained that "if an order is issued, it would be unlikely to have any short-term impact on an energy industry struggling with an oil glut tied to the coronavirus pandemic."

However, it would further the Trump's attempt to distinguish between the pro-fossil fuel policies of his administration and the clean energy transition plans of Biden—whose deputy national press secretary Matt Hill told the Journal, "President Trump knows that Joe Biden won't ban fracking, so he's playing politics."

Citing multiple sources briefed on the president's considerations, the newspaper noted that "one aim of the proposed order would be to highlight the broader impact of fracking throughout a U.S.-based supply chain, especially in swing states critical to Mr. Trump's victory." The report continued:

Industries like steel in Ohio and Pennsylvania make pipe to transport oil and gas, while mines in Wisconsin produce sand used in fracking to prop open cracks in the shale rock that oil and gas flow out of. This year's downturn has resulted in bankruptcies and layoffs in those businesses, too, as the monthly number of wells being drilled in the U.S. plummeted to less than 10% of its 2014 peak.

Mr. Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 in part because he outperformed past Republican nominees in the counties home to the most gas drilling, said Kevin Book, managing director of analysis firm ClearView Energy Partners LLC. An order like this could boost enthusiasm with those same voters and extend the use of that same playbook into other battleground states.

"This is a hug-your-fracker move, but it's also hug-your-fracker's-supplier move," Mr. Book said. "In Pennsylvania fracking does make a difference at the margins. And in a close race, these are votes worth fighting for."

In addition to leading various national polls, Biden has outperformed the president in several recent surveys conducted in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, according to RealClearPolitics. However, in 2016, then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton lost all three states to Trump, and some polling in those states and others still suggest a second Trump victory in next week's election.

As Common Dreams has previously reported, the candidates' positions on fracking have repeatedly come up on the campaign trail and debate stages—including during the final debate between Trump and Biden last week. The former vice president said he would push for a transition away from oil to clean energy but reiterated that he has only called for barring fracking on federal lands, not totally outlawing the practice.

In response, 350 Action North America director Tamara Toles O'Laughlin—whose group is among the environmental advocacy organizations backing Biden—said that while he "demonstrated the capacity for leadership our country needs and deserves, including tackling the climate crisis at scale," activists remain "committed to holding a Biden administration accountable to stop fracking and protect our communities."

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