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Senate candidate McCormick says less red tape, more gas, are key to Pa.’s economic future

A man wearing a suit speaks at a lectern.
Oliver Morrison
90.5 WESA
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dave McCormick laid out his energy policy in Downtown Pittsburgh on Friday.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dave McCormick says Pennsylvania’s future economic prosperity will depend on whether its energy industry can grow even faster than it already has.

The United States is currently the largest energy producer in the world, and has never produced more oil and gas than now. And during a speech in Downtown Pittsburgh Friday, McCormick acknowledged that Pennsylvania is already the second-largest producing state in the country. But he maintained that’s despite the policies of Democrats like Joe Biden, not because of them.

“The single most important thing, and the only thing stopping us from becoming energy-dominant, is ourselves” he said. “It's red tape. It's backward thinking. It's the lack of imagination.”

In a nod to environmental concerns that surround the burning of fossil fuels, McCormick acknowledged that the world is getting warmer, but did not concede that human energy consumption is the main driver of climate change. He said only that “human activity is one of the many contributing factors” to rising global temperatures.

McCormick said he would focus on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by flooding the global market with liquified natural gas, or LNG. The United States has already reduced its own emissions substantially by replacing coal power plants with natural gas, he said. But countries like India and China still burn coal, a process that produces some of the world’s heaviest emissions of carbon dioxide.

“LNG is significantly cleaner than coal and using it to replace coal overseas is the one of the most significant ways to reduce global emissions,” he said. “It's good for Pennsylvania workers, it's good for America.”

President Joe Biden announced last month that he wanted to study the impact of building additional natural gas export terminals, although the move would not affect terminals already in the process of being built over the next few years. McCormick’s likely Democratic opponent, Sen. Bob Casey, questioned Biden’s decision, but McCormick said Casey’s statement didn’t go far enough.

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Expanding natural gas exports would not only be good for Pennsylvania’s economy, McCormick said, but would also make countries around the world less beholden to authoritarian regimes.

“Just look at what happened to Germany,” he said. “It was dependent on Russia for natural gas and coal and now is having to completely change its energy supply chains based on Russia's invasion of Ukraine.”

McCormick worries that the United States is falling into a similar trap by becoming dependent on Chinese producers of clean-energy components. Companies in China currently produce the most and cheapest electric car batteries and solar panels in the world.

McCormick criticized Casey for voting to subsidize electric vehicles and solar panels when Casey voted in favor of the Inflation Reduction Act [IRA]. McCormick said he would lead a Republican effort to halt the subsidies.

“We have to stop sending American taxpayer dollars to companies controlled by the Chinese Communist Party,” McCormick said. “No solar panels from China and no electric vehicle components from China, period.”

Under the IRA, American companies are required to use fewer Chinese components every year to be eligible for subsidies. And this has led to an $80 billion boom in clean energy manufacturing in the United States. Chinese components are not banned by the bill. McCormick clarified after his speech that he thinks the country should ban Chinese components even faster than is currently required by the IRA’s phase out, although he didn’t specify how fast.

Experts expressed some doubt about McCormick’s prescriptions.

There is some evidence that expanding natural gas exports could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, say researchers at Carnegie Mellon’s Scott Institute for Energy Innovation who have looked at the issue. But the size of the reductions would be so small, according to their report, that it wouldn’t have a meaningful impact on global climate emissions.

Meanwhile, Scott Institute director Costa Samaras said the IRA subsidies are creating jobs in the region, including in Weirton, West Virginia. He was skeptical McCormick’s plan to halt them would get support.

I don't think that getting rid of the provisions in the IRA that has led to a manufacturing boom in the United States and is lowering energy costs for consumers is something that's going to be very popular,” he said.

Compromise and clashes

McCormick challenged Casey directly in his speech on three issues. He asked Casey to oppose Biden’s long-term plan to phase out fossil fuels from the power sector. He asked Casey to oppose a new set of fuel standards from the EPA which have yet to be released but which would likely require American car companies to sell substantially more electric vehicles. And McCormick challenged Casey to do more to reduce American dependence on Chinese batteries and solar panels.

Casey’s campaign didn’t respond directly. But the Pennsylvania Democratic party accused McCormick of hypocrisy, given the fact that a hedge fund he used to manage, Bridgewater, had a long record of investment in China.

“[McCormick] increased investments in China by 108,000% while leading a Connecticut hedge fund, and attacked provisions that encourage the use of materials manufactured in the U.S. Pennsylvanians deserve leaders that will put them first,” said Mitch Kates, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.

A man wearing a suit speaks at a lectern.
Oliver Morrison
90.5 WESA
Republican Senate candidate Dave McCormick gave a general outline of his energy approach on Friday but some of his suggestions were short on specifics, including his proposals for promoting carbon capture, passing permitting reform and phasing out Chinese clean energy components.

McCormick championed several ideas in his speech that have bipartisan support. For example, he said that the government should make it easier to develop nuclear power, one day after both Democrats and Republicans voted in the U.S. House to do just that.

“Countries around the world have proven nuclear, like natural gas, can provide safe and reliable baseload power at scale,” he said. “And over the long term, the variable power provided by solar and wind will not be sustainable without nuclear and natural gas.“

McCormick also championed permitting reform, an effort that he noted is supported by clean-energy and fossil-fuel businesses alike. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin pushed unsuccessfully for permitting reform several times in the last two Congresses. When asked whether he would support those bills, McCormick said he would not go into specifics.

He also didn’t address the long-term impact of his energy plan’s support of natural gas. Most climate scientists say some form of cheap “carbon capture” – a means of keeping carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels out of the atmosphere – will be necessary if natural gas remains part of the world’s long-term energy future. McCormick said he supports carbon capture during his speech but in response to a question after it, he said he wouldn't comment on whether the incentives for carbon capture already in place in the IRA are sufficient.

Instead, McCormick said the government should focus on research rather than subsidies.

“I don't think the government should be tipping the scales on particular technologies,” he said.

Oliver Morrison is a general assignment reporter at WESA. He previously covered education, environment and health for PublicSource in Pittsburgh and, before that, breaking news and weekend features for the Wichita Eagle in Kansas.