with Alexandra Ellerbeck

President Trump's election-eve pitch in Pennsylvania is that he — and he alone — will protect the oil and gas industry in the state he desperately needs to win to stay in the White House.

Both Republicans and Democrats see the Keystone State as key to victory, with several analyses showing it as a tipping point in determining the winner of the electoral college in the contest between the president and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

To that end, Trump delivered a spate of speeches in the gas- and oil-producing state over the last weekend before Election Day, culminating in the signing of an executive order meant to reassure energy workers there.

As the sun set on Halloween in Pennsylvania, Trump heralded the demise of the state’s oil and gas industry should Biden win.

“Biden’s plan is an economic death sentence for Pennsylvania,” he told a crowd at the Pittsburgh-Butler Regional Airport. “He will outlaw fracking and eradicate your great economy,” 

Moments earlier on Marine One, Trump had signed a directive in support of hydraulic fracking, or fracking, an extraction technique used to unlock gas from the Marcellus Shale stretching through the western half of the state.  

In the campaign’s waning days, Trump and other Republicans have latched onto Biden’s comment that he wanted a “transition from the oil industry” during the last presidential debate.

"The president clearly recognizes the importance of Pennsylvania to his reelection strategy," said Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor who runs an oil field services company. "He succeeded in finding a chink in Biden's armor in the last debate and now he's focused on widening it to the greatest extent possible.

"It's a naked political move that is pure Trump," he added.

But it's unclear what sort of traction a pro-fracking message will have in Pennsylvania with so many votes already cast and with the cultural identity of the state's working class more tied to coal than natural gas.

Trump ramped up his exaggerated and false claims about both Biden's and his own energy policies in the last days of the campaign.

The order instructed the Energy Department to conduct studies on the benefit fracked gas and oil provides to both the domestic economy and national security. 

However, speaking outside Pittsburgh, Trump falsely claimed his order would “block any effort to undermine energy production in your state” from a future administration.

The president also overstated the impact of Biden’s $2 trillion plan for addressing climate change, falsely claiming his opponent's proposal called for “no heating in the winter, no air conditioning in the summer, no electricity during peak hours.” Trump, by contrast, has no comprehensive plan for dealing with the economic and ecological perils of rising global temperatures.

Earlier in the day in Bucks County north of Philadelphia, Trump also inflated the economic importance of fracking in Pennsylvania, claiming the oil sector employed “probably a million” jobs in the state. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, however, the oil and gas sector supports between 20,000 and 50,000 jobs there.

Also in that speech, Trump suggested Biden was beholden to other Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), in crafting his environmental plan.

Biden “really doesn't understand it,” Trump said. “They'll tell him what to do. He’ll do whatever they tell him.”

And during a Saturday rally in Reading, Pa., Trump played a selected edited video of both Biden's and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala D. Harris's (D-Calif.) comments on curtailing oil and gas production.

Aiming to enmesh fracking into the broader culture war, the Trump campaign even attacked Biden for scheduling a campaign event with singer Lady Gaga, who opposes fracking. 

“Nothing exposes Joe Biden’s disdain for the forgotten working people of Pennsylvania like campaigning with anti-fracking activist Lady Gaga,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said in a statement Sunday.

Biden is calling for the United States to end its contributions to climate change by the middle of the century. His plan includes incentives and mandates that encourage the use of renewable energy and electric vehicles that do not rely on petroleum-based fuels.

Democrats are increasingly spooked about losing Pennsylvania.

Politicians, strategists and party activists tell our colleague Sean Sullivan they worry about the potential for snafus in processing mail-in ballots, GOP-led lawsuits aiming to throw out ballots and a surge in White, rural voting for Trump.

Despite Biden's modest polling lead in Pennsylvania, surveys have tightened in the last days of the campaign. A Washington Post polling average shows Biden with a 6 percentage point advantage over Trump in Pennsylvania — within the margin of error of most surveys.

Underscoring Pennsylvania's potential for swinging the election, the former vice president spent Sunday campaigning in the state, with plans to stump there for part of Monday as well.

Four years ago, Pennsylvania was among a handful of Rust Belt states in which Trump eked out surprise victories. Trump beat Hillary Clinton by less than 45,000 votes in Pennsylvania in 2016.

Biden has emphasized he is not calling for an explicit ban on fracking. He sees blue-collar union workers, including those in the energy sector, as essential to his coalition in Pennsylvania.

Power plays

Bloomberg pumps money into state races that could have an outsized impact on climate.

“Billionaire and former presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg is pumping as much as $20 million into three relatively low-profile state races that he thinks can build support for renewable energy and oversight of utilities and oil and gas companies,” our colleague Steve Mufson reports.

“We are looking at races that would have an impact on utilities and getting states to 100 percent clean economies,” said Brynne Craig, the campaign manager for the Bloomberg-backed Beyond Carbon. “Mike has believed that we need federal action but that we also need state action, and you can’t have one without the other.” 

  • In Texas, Beyond Carbon has spent $2.5 million on a campaign to boost Democrat Chrysta Castañeda for a spot on the Texas railroad commission, which regulates oil and gas pipelines, oversees the closure of abandoned wells and regulates methane emissions. 
  • In Arizona, Bloomberg has also spent $6.3 million backing three Democrats for the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates the state’s utilities and can order expanded use of renewable energy. 
  • And in North Carolina, Beyond Carbon is backing Yvonne Lewis Holley, a Democratic state lawmaker running to be the state’s next lieutenant governor. If elected, Holley, who favors offshore wind and has been vocal on environmental justice issues, would chair that state’s energy council and could cast a deciding vote on legislation in case of deadlock in the state Senate.
An Interior Department official called peaceful Black Lives Matter protests racist and cited a White-supremacist website.

“Weeks after the Interior Department halted diversity training to comply with an executive order from President Trump, a top assistant at the agency is under scrutiny for defending Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager accused of fatally shooting two people and injuring a third during a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wis.,” our colleague Darryl Fears reports

The official, Jeremy Carl, a newly appointed deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, also cited American Renaissance, a White-supremacist website, in an op-ed published on FoxNews.com in which Carl railed against a Starbucks policy allowing anyone to spend time in its stores and denounced the anti-discrimination work of former attorney general Eric Holder. 

“Carl’s conservative writings aren’t the first to be denounced as racially bigoted at the department. Former Bureau of Land Management acting director William Perry Pendley once mused that federal treaty obligations to Native American tribes could end because Indians will cease to exist,” Fears writes. “When Carl joined Interior in early October, he stepped into one of the least diverse agencies in the federal workplace. Black representation on its executive staff ranked last, 5.6 percent compared to 38 percent in Education and Housing and Urban Development.” 

A generation of young climate activists may vote in a presidential election for the first time.

A surging cohort of young voters who rank climate change among their top priorities will have the opportunity to flex their political muscle in the presidential election, our colleague Sarah Kaplan reports.  “They came of age in an era of unprecedented natural disasters, orchestrated the largest global climate protests in half a century, and take credit for pushing environmental issues to the forefront of the 2020 campaign.” 

Many high-schoolers who organized climate change protests, including skipping school to demonstrate, will vote for the first time. Young voters are more likely than older voters to see climate change as a serious threat, and this year they could turn out in record numbers, according to Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).

“According to CIRCLE, more than 7 million people between ages 18 and 29 had already cast a ballot seven days before Election Day — more than twice the number from that point in 2016. Although concern about the coronavirus has increased early and absentee voting across the country, no other age group has seen as big a spike,” Kaplan writes.

The Sunrise movement is getting out the vote for Biden, but the honeymoon may be short.

The youth-led organization that backed the Green New Deal has become a major force in progressive politics. During the primaries, the organization endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and initially gave Joe Biden an “F” grade on his climate plan. Now, however, many of the group’s 19,800 members are doing outreach on behalf of Biden.

“While other left-leaning environmental groups have formally backed Biden, Sunrise has stopped short of an official endorsement. But it is still marshaling its network of supporters to get out the vote for the Democrat,” I reported

Biden has already moved significantly to the left on climate issues, although not as far as activists would like. Sunrise spokesman Stevie O’Hanlon told The Post that if the former vice president wins, the organization will mount a major campaign to ensure that climate change is given priority as a top legislative issue.  

If Biden prevails, “young voters and climate activists are not likely to sit still for long. And the tension between the younger, more vocal wing of the party and the former vice president’s moderate inclinations is likely to be a defining issue as the new administration tries to govern.” 

As Trump's first terms winds to a close, he has weakened or eliminated 125 environmental safeguards.

A Washington Post analysis finds that in addition to those rollbacks, there are at least 40 more underway, our colleagues Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis and John Muyskens report. “The administration has accelerated its push to deregulate in the weeks before the election, to ease requirements on power plants that leak waste into waterways, weaken efficiency standards for dishwashers, scale back oversight of mine safety and approve seismic drilling in an Alaska wildlife refuge.”

The Trump administration says it has advanced a more practical environmental agenda, pointing out work done to clean up Superfund sites, upgrade municipal water systems and fund maintenance at national parks. But Trump's regulatory rollbacks “will define his environmental legacy, touching every corner of the nation, from what comes out of car tailpipes to how companies extract oil on land and at sea,” Eilperin, Dennis and Muyskens write.

More than half of the administration's policies have faced legal challenges, but even when they are not fully implemented, they often result in delayed implementation of new environmental rules or later compliance dates for industry. 

“Democrats are already planning how they would revive environmental regulation if they win the White House. Biden has pledged to take executive action to block projects such as the Keystone XL oil pipeline and Alaska’s controversial Pebble Mine, and to rejoin the Paris climate accord to help combat global warming,” Eilperin, Dennis and Muyskens write. “But overhauling many of the rules altered under Trump would take years, and clawing back oil and gas leases would be nearly impossible.” 

Ocean conservation

The U.S. may be responsible for five times more plastic waste in the oceans than previously thought.

A new study, published in Science Advances on Friday, found that in 2016 the United States contributed between 1.1 and 2.2 million tons of plastic waste to the ocean. That’s somewhere between twofold and fivefold what the authors had estimated in a previous study, the New York Times reports.

Two factors contributed to the sharp increase: Americans are using more plastic than ever and the current study included pollution generated by United States exports of plastic waste, while the earlier one did not,” the New York Times reports. “The United States, which does not have sufficient infrastructure to handle its recycling demands at home, exports about half of its recyclable waste. Of the total exported, about 88 percent ends up in countries considered to have inadequate waste management." 

Oil check

The pandemic continues to weigh on fossil fuel companies.

ExxonMobil "posted its third consecutive quarterly loss for the first time on record Friday and disclosed that it may write down the value of natural-gas assets worth as much as $30 billion, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to pressure the world’s biggest oil companies,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “The Texas oil giant reported a loss of $680 million in the third quarter compared with a profit of $3.17 billion during the same period last year.”

The company's decision to invest heavily before the pandemic to grow oil and gas production backfired as commodity prices plunged this year. 

“Rival Chevron Corp. on Friday posted a third-quarter loss of $207 million compared with a profit of $2.58 billion in the same quarter last year. Royal Dutch Shell PLC reported a profit of $546 million Thursday, while BP PLC lost $307 million,” the Wall Street Journal writes. “The results make clear that the pandemic continues to weigh on the industry despite a modest economic recovery and rebound in demand for oil and gas. New lockdowns in Europe are conjuring fears that rapidly climbing virus cases could mean a prolonged global recession.”