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EDITORIAL: Pa. should ignore fracking debate

York Dispatch editorial board
In this Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019 photo, a sign is posted at a construction site on the Mariner East pipeline in a residential neighborhood in Exton, Pa. The 350-mile (560-kilometer) pipeline route traverses those suburbs, close to schools, ballfields and senior care facilities. The spread of drilling, compressor stations and pipelines has changed neighborhoods — and opinions. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

If there were any doubt about the importance Pennsylvania will likely play in the already-underway presidential elections, look no further than the outsized attention being given to the issue of fracking.

Yes, hydraulic fracturing. No, this isn’t 2008.

That the Keystone State and its coveted 20 electoral votes are high on President Trump’s wish list is no secret. He’s been here repeatedly in recent weeks, as have Vice President Mike Pence and first lady Melania Trump.

Democratic challenger and former Vice President Joe Biden likewise understands the importance of winning the state. He, too, has made Pennsylvania a regular stop on his campaign tour. And his former boss, President Barack Obama, delivered remarks from Philadelphia earlier this month and during the Democratic National Convention in August.

The visits haven’t been surprising; the attention to the natural gas-drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing — fracking for short; fracking for shorter — is.

More:AP FACT CHECK: Trump falsifies Biden stance on fracking

More:Biden hits Trump on economy in critical Pennsylvania county

Whether at one of his public health-threatening campaign rallies or onstage during the final presidential debate, Trump misses no opportunity to claim his opponent is going to “ban fracking.”

“Joe Biden confirmed his plan to abolish the entire U.S. oil industry,” Trump bellowed Monday at a rally in Allentown. “That means no fracking, no jobs, no energy for Pennsylvania families. He will eradicate your energy and send Pennsylvania into a crippling depression.”

Baloney, says Biden.

The Democratic candidate has urged banning the practice on federal land, and he’s made no secret of his plans to push for more renewable energy, but he knows the transition will be complicated and time-consuming.

Just as importantly, so do his supporters.

“The day they can feed the United States economy energy-wise with solar and wind, then thank God for it,” Kenneth Broadbent, business manager of Pennsylvania’s Steamfitters Local 449, told the New York Times. “But they’re going to need natural gas, and Biden understands that.”

That’s a nuance that is, unsurprisingly, lost on the president, who assumes state residents embrace the practice unequivocally and unanimously.

That’s far from the case. While the state’s estimated 12,400 fracking wells have indeed created jobs and considerable revenue during the Marcellus Shale boom of the past decade or so, those benefits come with considerable costs.

In fact, a special statewide grand jury released an extensive report this summer detailing what it described as extensive environmental, public health and oversight problems related to the fracking industry.

The state Department of Environmental Protection was too cozy with industry officials, the report charged, and the state Department of Health fell down in its duty to protect the public.

“When it comes to fracking, Pennsylvania failed,” charged state Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

So, hitching his political wagon to the hydrofracking star may not be the ticket to electoral victory Trump envisions.

Lost in all of the political back-and-forth is the very likely reality that neither candidate is going to have much of an impact on the state’s energy industry. A President Biden isn’t going to be any more effective at banning fracking in Pennsylvania than President Trump has been in bringing back all those mining jobs he promised. The markets have and will continue to play the deciding role in the future of these industries (and they’ve been bearish on all, of late).

Yes, the nation and world need to transition from traditional fuels like coal and natural gas to wind and solar to slow climate change. But this is not going to happen over the course of the next presidential term, no matter who sits in the Oval Office.

There are any number of important distinctions between the two candidates seeking Pennsylvania’s endorsement. Where they stand on fracking is not one of them.