(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania’s robust natural gas industry played an integral role in messaging from presidential candidates this election cycle – and both Donald Trump and Joe Biden spent the last few hours of the campaign promising to protect it.

In Pittsburgh, Democratic challenger Joe Biden told a crowd that he won’t ban fracking – a term coined by activists to describe hydraulic fracturing, the process of extracting natural gas from shale deposits hundreds of feet below the surface of large swathes of the state – in what’s become a familiar refrain from the former vice president while on the campaign trail this year. 

Biden has been on the record opposing natural gas drilling in the past as the Democratic Party has advocated for cleaner energy sources and stricter environmental regulations against the industry. While he’s rejected prior remarks, the former vice president says he will end subsidies for oil companies and hopes to lead the country through an energy transition away from fossil fuels. 

But such a transition leaves some 300,000 residents employed by the gas industry uneasy – a fact Trump hopes to capitalize on this year and widen his lead in a state once reliable piece of the Democrat candidate’s path to the White House.

“A big part of your livelihood, your money, your income, your low taxes, is fracking,” Trump said during a campaign rally Monday in Scranton. “He’s [Biden] spent years saying he will not allow fracking.”

Business Manager Jim Kunz warned that Biden’s flip-flopping on drilling could spell his campaign’s demise, just as it did for Hillary Clinton four years earlier.

Biden, again, played defense Monday, saying “I will protect those jobs, period, no matter what Donald Trump says.”

The Center Square first reported Biden’s struggle with building trade unions back in June when the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 66 said the Democratic Party’s progressive energy policies alienate its 8,000-plus members. Business Manager Jim Kunz warned that Biden’s flip-flopping on drilling could spell his campaign’s demise, just as it did for Hillary Clinton four years earlier.

“It’s definitely impacting the building trades and other unions,” he said, whose organization represents heavy equipment operators in 33 counties across the state and three in Ohio. “We get a lot of employment out of the Marcellus and Utica shale plays.” 

An NBC/Marist poll released Monday shows Biden with a five-point lead over Trump, just outside the survey’s 4.4 percent margin of error. Analysts left and right on the political spectrum agree that the Keystone State could, indeed, live up to its namesake and deliver a win for either candidate. 

Trump carried Pennsylvania in 2016 by fewer than 50,000, meaning blue collar workers, like those the IOEU represent, could help sway the state’s 20 electoral votes in his favor.

“I don’t know how he walks back those comments he’s made,” Kunz said in June of Biden’s past record on gas drilling. “We get stuck in the middle of trying to cherry pick candidates and telling our members to just go with their conscience.”

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania’s General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.

This piece was originally published in The Center Square. Read the original article here.

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