Joe Biden delivered his campaign kickoff speech in Pittsburgh — a place that evokes images of rusted-out smokestacks and shuttered factories. But that isn’t the case today. Fracking has had a major role in rejuvenating the Pittsburgh region’s economy. There’s one teensy problem for Biden, however: Democrats hate fracking. And folks in the ‘burgh region like their fracking jobs, and don’t want to wait on some pie-in-sky “Green New Deal” jobs that likely will never materialize.
My family has lived in Pittsburgh’s coal country for generations, finally settling along the Allegheny River. Back in the 1990s, you could walk into the local Olive Garden on a Friday night and be seated immediately. On a visit a few years later, I noticed a long wait line complete with buzzers. My cousin said the reason was fracking.
She also mentioned how the bright lights in the hills weren’t due to night football, but, again, fracking.
Indeed, the evidence is apparent on PA Route 28. Rusted buildings that once lined the Allegheny riverfront are gone, replaced with new businesses that support the fracking industry.
Many workers in these new industries live north of the river, in Butler County — one of the few Pennsylvania counties to have experienced growth over the past two decades. The county’s chamber of commerce claims that between 1990-2000, the county grew by a whopping 14.5 percent.
Butler County is a robust suburban area, with a poverty rate of 8.42 percent, median income of $66,000 and a median house value of $190,000. However, neighboring Allegheny County (encompassing Pittsburgh) has a 12.5 percent poverty rate, a median income of $58,600 and median housing at $153,500.
The contrast between Butler and Allegheny Counties reflects Pennsylvanians voting with their feet. By moving to Butler County, they avoid the higher social expenses and taxes that come with an aging urban area.
They’re able to enjoy new-build homes too, instead of making-do with Allegheny’s ‘century’ homes stained with grit and hobbled by ancient plumbing and heating systems.
Butler’s geographic and infrastructure factors also are positive, as the southeastern tip of Butler County fronts the Allegheny County. Further, its workforce is served by Route 28, a modern freeway which connects the county to worksites on the Allegheny River.
However, none of this would matter if it wasn’t for fracking. Fracking is the magnet that has attracted workers to the Allegheny Valley. Lower taxes have attracted those workers to make their homes in Butler, not Allegheny County.
The Butler County experience ought to be instructive for so-called moderates like Joe Biden, but it won’t be, as it’s based on a Democratic political anathema (fracking).
The happy ending to this story is how local Republicans are eagerly taking advantage of the situation. The last time Butler County voted for a Democrat for president was in 1964, when Lyndon Johnson was on the ticket. The influx of new residents hasn’t changed the county’s political makeup, as all of its current state representatives and senators are Republican.
If Biden, from his stump speech perch, could look northwards on the Allegheny River, he would see a brighter, vastly different landscape from the old, crumbling steel buildings. But to survive politically, he cannot acknowledge the success story that’s literally a few miles upstream.
On the other hand, if Butler County’s Republicans had a theme song, it would be: keep on frackin’!
Joanne Butler was an international trade specialist at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and at the Foreign Agricultural Service at USDA in the George H.W. Bush administration. In the George W. Bush administration, she was a senior adviser and speechwriter at the Department of Labor.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.