The Politics of Shale Energy

There is a brutal fact of politics no candidate can escape (try as they might): People vote their pocketbooks. The quintessential example of that that political axiom is Washington County, Pennsylvania. Heavily Democrat in voter registration, Washington County voters did something 3 1/2 years ago they haven’t done in over 40 years—they voted for a Republican for president (John McCain). And you can bet your bottom dollar Romney will be their choice this time around.

The shift from blue to red makes Washington, Pennsylvania a political anomaly. It’s a democratic leaning region heavily populated with union workers, but according to County Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughan the voting shift can be explained along economic lines.

"The recession really hasn’t had a huge impact in Washington County. We’re third in the nation in job growth and 40 percent of that’s due to the Marcellus Shale Plate."

"I think Washington County voters are more likely to look at the candidate and look at the issues and the positions of the candidate when they vote rather than just pulling the party lever," said Vaughan, adding "people in southwestern Pennsylvania in general and especially Washington County are very supportive of the energy industry. We all want to make sure that the energy industry is responsible and clean and green and safe but we’re open to allowing energy independence to start right here."

Drive the back roads here and you’re likely to see lawn signs supporting or decrying the energy business.  ‘Stop The War on Coal – Fire Obama’ reads one, symbolic of the political divide among voters. This area was built on the back of coal, a source of energy that fueled the industrial revolution and supplied the steel mills of nearby Pittsburgh. Consol Energy is one of the largest employers in the county and according to company CEO J. Brett Harvey this election is in many respects a referendum on the nation’s energy policy.

"I think the American energy policy is political and we’re not looking at our resources," he said. "We have 30 percent of the world’s coal, we’ve found all this natural gas and we’re debating whether to use it or not. We need to find ways of using it for the good of the people because it’s our resources … It’s red, white and blue."

Harvey believes people are voting for their jobs, and in some cases the natural resources beneath their land.*

President Obama can run, but he can’t hide from the fact his policies have led to the worst economy in our country since the Great Depression. Worse even than Jimmy Carter’s stagflation years (and that was really bad). No amount of media lipstick can dress up the sad state of our economic pig. And no, it’s not George Bush’s fault. Time to retire that old excuse.

Will the Marcellus and Utica Shale have an impact on this year’s presidential election? You better believe it will. Pennsylvania and Ohio are critical to Obama’s re-election bid. And West Virginia too. Oh, by the way, WV Gov. Ray Earl Tomblin, the state’s top Democrat, has announced he’ll skip the Democrat convention this year. He doesn’t want to be anywhere near Obama.

The Obama administration EPA and Dept. of Interior’s heavy-handed rules and regulations have not gone unnoticed by voters—especially those who live in shale plays. Hiring high level officials who proudly proclaim they’re out to “crucify” energy companies they perceive to be violating said regulations has also not gone unnoticed.

MDN believes you’ll see many more Washington Counties come November. And none too soon.

*Fox News (Jun 28, 2012) – Listening to the Voters: Energy drives swing vote

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