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 October 15, 2020
Fracking and the Election

 Early this year my colleague Shane Goldmacher and I met a group of Western Pennsylvania trade union leaders at an Italian restaurant outside of Pittsburgh to talk about fracking. They were all longtime Democrats, but they told us they were worried the party would choose a candidate who would attack the natural gas industry that provides livelihood for them and for thousands of people in Pennsylvania.

I caught up with the group again last week by phone and found most are now rallying behind Joseph R. Biden Jr.

President Trump has repeatedly and falsely accused the former vice president of planning to ban fracking. Many of the union leaders and members I spoke with said they take Mr. Biden at his word that he will protect fracking --- and by extension the natural gas industry --- even as he pursues a $2 trillion climate change plan.

"He wants it done properly. I don't believe he wants to end fracking," said Thomas Melcher, business manager of the Pittsburgh Regional Building Trades Council, referring to Mr. Biden.

"We need to continue fracking to continue on with our gas lines. You take that away and you're taking hundreds of thousands of jobs, and I don't believe he wants to do that. He wants to create jobs," Mr. Melcher said.

For climate activists, however, the goal of eliminating fracking is explicitly intertwined with phasing out natural gas. Reaching a goal of net-zero emissions before 2050, many activists say, is incompatible with new fossil fuel development of any type.

For now, climate activists and union leaders are finding a common cause in their effort to oust President Trump. And Mr. Biden seems to be appeasing both sides. He vowed, after pressure from liberal activists, to bar fossil fuel leaders from his transition team should he be elected, while also repeatedly assuring unions that he won't ban fracking.

But both sides are likely to keep the pressure on if Mr. Biden wins the White House.

Jim Harding, a steamfitter for 30 years in Allegheny County told me, "I think we have his ear. If not, he'll hear from us, believe me."