Toomey presses for bulwark against future fracking ban
HARRISBURG — Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said Friday that he is seeking passage of a measure that’s squarely aimed at several Democratic presidential candidates and designed to prevent a president from banning hydraulic fracturing.
At a news conference in Harrisburg, Toomey said his newly introduced resolution makes it clear that Congress believes that a president doesn’t have the authority to ban hydraulic fracturing, called fracking for short.
The resolution, should it pass, would be a bulwark in a legal fight against a president who tries to use the levers of executive branch power to ban the natural gas extraction process.
“What I’m trying to do is put a spotlight and encourage senators and House members to underscore that the president does not have the legal authority to do this and that would then contribute to forming the basis for a very, very aggressive pushback if a future president were to attempt to exercise powers that he or she doesn’t legally have,” Toomey said.
Toomey’s resolution is in response to an all-out prohibition that’s backed by two leading Democratic presidential candidates, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
The prospect of banning fracking is dividing Democrats and their traditional allies in organized labor in what’s shaping up as a premier battleground state in next year’s presidential election.
Pennsylvania is also the nation’s No. 2 natural gas state, behind Texas. While Pennsylvania’s leading Democrats have run campaigns that beat up on the state’s booming natural gas industry, none have said that they would flat-out ban it. Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has even backed new pipeline construction, saying that the industry needs a distribution system.
Banning fracking, Toomey said, would drive up home energy costs of energy for Americans, cost tens of thousands of jobs in Pennsylvania, tear holes in the budgets of state and local governments and increase the nation’s reliance on foreign sources of energy.
President Donald Trump has promoted his support for the natural gas industry on two visits to Pennsylvania in the past three months, making clear that he sees his pro-industry policies as a boost to his chances of winning the state in 2020’s election.
In a statement Friday, Warren’s campaign said she would fight for legislation to ban fracking nationwide, build on the Obama administration’s methane rule and use executive authorities to regulate air and water contaminants from fracking and natural gas operations.
Warren’s campaign also said she is committed to providing job training to workers in the fossil fuel industry, and guaranteed wage and benefit parity for workers transitioning into new industries, or pensions and early retirement benefits for those who want to retire.
Sanders’ campaign didn’t respond to the question of how he would go about banning fracking, but took a shot at Toomey, saying Toomey “wants us to believe his wealthy donors from the fossil fuel industry instead of Pennsylvanians currently being poisoned by fracking.”
“In a Sanders administration, we will transition to 100% clean energy, support rural America and take care of workers who are transitioning to new job opportunities, instead of allowing them to be exploited by the greed and corruption of the fossil fuel industry,” Sanders’ campaign said in a statement.
Along with new horizontal drilling techniques, fracking has unlocked huge new volumes of natural gas and oil from shale deposits in the U.S. over the past decade or so.
Toomey said he is confident his measure would draw bipartisan support in both chambers, although he acknowledges that chances of a floor vote in the Democratic-controlled House are “not great.”
The resolution, he said, isn’t a reflection of who he believes will win next year’s presidential race.
“I’m not in the business of predicting what that outcome is going to be,” Toomey said, “but someday we’ll have a Democratic president and there seems to be this growing idea on the left that we have to even ban natural gas.”
Toomey introduced his resolution days after Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, a Democrat, told a convention of climate change activists that he opposed the potential arrival of a second petrochemical refinery in the area that would be fed by natural gas.