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Days Before Election, Trump Returns to Western PA To Tout Fossil Fuels

Trump campaign livestream
Donald Trump speaking in Butler, PA on October 31, 2020

Trailing in a state he probably must win in order to be re-elected, Trump announced at a Saturday rally that he’d signed an order to ban efforts that ban fracking for natural gas. It's unclear how effective such an order would be, however, and voters may never find out: Democratic nominee Joe Biden has disavowed wanting to impose a ban, and would likely not be able to do so in any event.

"Moments ago, I signed an order to protect Pennsylvania fracking and block any effort to undermine energy production in your state,” Trump told a packed outdoor crowd in Butler as part of a three-stop tour of Pennsylvania just days before the Nov. 3 election.  

“If one of these maniacs come along and they say, ‘We're going to end fracking, we're going to destroy the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,’ you can say, ‘Sorry about that.’”

In fact, the order appears merely to charge federal agencies with “assessing the economic impacts of prohibiting, or sharply restricting, the use of hydraulic fracturing and other technologies.” The review would look at the impact of a ban on jobs, tax revenues, and other economic considerations. It would also evaluate national-security considerations.

That would appear to be well short of the kind of ironclad protection that Trump seemed to be promising. But then, presidents have little power to ban fracking on their own, and Biden hasn’t actually proposed a ban in the first place. The former vice president would prohibit the development of new drilling sites on federal land, but the vast majority of gas drilling that takes place in Pennsylvania is on property that is privately owned.

Biden’s efforts to combat climate change do call for a transition away from fossil fuels by 2050, and many supporters of natural gas have hailed it as a potential transition fuel to more renewable energy sources.

But Trump’s remarks, which took place with a flag-bedecked drilling well as a backdrop, were warmly received by the crowd.  His hour-long speech otherwise was a familiar litany of complaints about the media, jokes about Biden’s mental state, and dire warnings about what life under a Biden administration would mean.

“He will imprison you in your home, letting rioters roam free,” Trump said at one point.

Trump did at points sound subdued, and during one critique of the media tacitly acknowledged that polls show him losing the state and the election.

“We haven’t lost, we haven’t lost yet,” he said.

The speech was also notable for a 5-minute video which included a Halloween skit: In it, an adult wearing a Biden mask appears with a group of kids for trick-or-treating – only to remove the mask and reveal a stand-in for Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamela Harris, who makes off with the candy.

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.
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