The mayor of Pittsburgh isn’t happy that Shell Chemical is building an ethane cracker plant in a neighboring county to take advantage of the booming natural gas extraction industry in northern Appalachia. He’s not jealous that the plant is being built in Monaca and not in Pittsburgh. No, he doesn’t like Shell’s $6 billion investment because it offends his sensibilities regarding climate change.
Pittsburgh once prided itself on being one of the nation’s premier blue-collar towns, but now the political leadership is not that fond of developments that are more suited to big burly men and blue-collar women than to the white-collar intelligentsia that views everything through the lens of the climate change doomsday movement.
According to publicsource.org, Mayor Bill Peduto “spoke out for the first time publicly against bringing additional petrochemical companies to western Pennsylvania at the Climate Action Summit in Downtown Pittsburgh” on Wednesday, Oct. 30.
“Let me be the first politician to say publicly, I oppose any additional petrochemical companies coming to Western Pennsylvania,” Peduto said to applause from his audience.
Publicsource.org said Peduto later restated his support for investing in green energy jobs and environmental cleanup instead of fracking and plastics.
Peduto’s remarks upset a number of people in the western Pennsylvania region.
“The battle is a microcosm of what is happening nationally: Big-city Democratic mayors are aligning themselves with leftist local officials and environmental activists to renounce disfavored industries,” columnist Salena Zito wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “It also exposes the Democrats’ deep challenges with blue-collar voters. In both western Pennsylvania and the Scranton area, the shale industry is opening up prosperity not seen for two generations — and inflaming climate zealots.”
Climate change aside, some people in western Pennsylvania (and elsewhere) who don’t want cracker plants in their neighborhoods say these facilities dirty the air and water and contribute to the overall environmental degradation of their regions. They obviously don’t trust local, state and national environmental regulators to set safe standards in issuing pollution permits or to enforce those permits.
The Monaca plant will take ethane, which is a liquid that is often recovered from fracked natural gas wells, and convert it into other products that are used to make plastics. ExxonMobil is said to be interested in building its own cracker in western Pennsylvania. People in the Moundsville area are waiting for word from PTT Global Chemical on whether it will build one across the Ohio River where a coal-fired power plant once stood. All signs point to a decision to build.
The Shell project is the first large-scale petrochemical project in Appalachia since the shale gas boom began in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio about a decade ago. It’s the first such plant in a long time that is not being built on the Gulf Coast.
It’s not the place for people in southern West Virginia to tell people in western Pennsylvania how to handle their internal disputes regarding economic development. The economy in Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania are more robust than that in West Virginia. Pittsburgh has more leeway in deciding what industries it wants than most places in Appalachia have.
If Pittsburgh’s leadership doesn’t want the benefits that come with an investment like Shell is making nearby, fine. There are other places that will take it.