Trump touts ‘energy dominance’ at Pittsburgh plant

President Donald Trump took a break from his August vacation on Tuesday to visit a Pennsylvania petrochemical plant that he hailed as an example of US energy dominance, while also making an overt 2020 campaign pitch.

The Shell Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex in Monaca, just outside of Pittsburgh, is scheduled to be finished in the early 2020, and will focus on producing plastic made from byproducts of fracking for natural gas.

The Appalachian region of Pennsylvania and West Virginia are large fracking producers, and the plant could help revitalize the industry which has been hit hard by lower natural gas prices. The massive plant has created 5,000 construction jobs. About 600 jobs are expected to be permanent, The New York Times reported.

But according to the Times, environmentalists are concerned that the plastic eventually produced at the plant will just add to the glut of plastic debris that is not being recycled and is adding to pollution worries.

Trump, however, blamed other countries in Asia, including China, for mismanaging their plastic distribution and disposal.

“It’s plastic that’s floating over in the ocean and the various oceans from other places,” he claimed to reporters as he left for the event.

Trump hits 2020 notes

The President did little to hide his political intentions during Tuesday’s official stop.

During the taxpayer-funded trip to the Shell Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex, Trump urged workers to vote to reelect him in 2020, knocked Democratic presidential hopefuls and bellowed out his campaign slogans, “Make America Great Again” and “Keep America Great.”

His remarks left no doubt that Trump’s visit to Beaver County on Tuesday was about shoring up support among blue collar workers in western Pennsylvania, a key region to his hopes for reelection in 2020.

“In 2020 we’re running, so you better get out there and make sure we win,” Trump told the crowd of construction workers who are building the Shell plant.

Trump accused Democrats of wanting to “wipe out our oil, they want to wipe out our natural gas industry as well.”

“Virtually every leading Democrat has vowed to eliminate fossil fuels, obliterating millions of American jobs, devastating communities and bankrupting families and senior citizens all across this region,” Trump claimed.

And after touting his administration’s “Buy American” initiative, he turned to his campaign slogans.

“It’s about America first. It’s about Make America Great Again. It’s about Keep America Great,” Trump said.

Energy goals

The Trump administration has long supported expanding domestic production of petroleum and natural gas, including loosening Obama-era regulations. His campaign team has also seized on recent attempts to push paper straws and reusable straws by selling plastic straws in hopes of firing up their base over one of the latest culture wars.

Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt, a former petroleum lobbyist, has been touting shattering records for oil and gas sales made through the agency’s Bureau of Land Management. And under Trump, the Energy Department has worked to keep coal and nuclear power plants from closing.

As part of Trump’s quest for domestic energy dominance and deregulation, mitigating the effects of climate change have fallen by the wayside, critics say.

In the latest example, the administration on Monday weakened protections for endangered animal species, a move critics fear will allow for more oil and gas drilling and limit how much regulators consider the impacts of the climate crisis.

The lack of action on climate change has even garnered criticism from one of Trump’s strongest allies on Capitol Hill, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said in July that he “would encourage the President to look long and hard at the science and find a solution.”

While Trump has moved away from calling climate change a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese to admitting that “something’s changing and it’ll change back again,” it’s not likely that the President sees moving away from the oil and natural gas industry as part of the solution.

When Trump imposed tariffs in early 2018 on solar panels coming in from overseas, the Solar Energy Industries Association estimated that more than 20,000 solar industry jobs would be lost. And while most other segments of the energy production industry, including wind power generation, are growing, the President earlier this year went so far as to claim, without evidence, that windmills cause cancer.

CNN’s Matt Hoye and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.