John Fetterman handily won campaigns for mayor of heavily Democratic Braddock, Pennsylvania, in the 2000s and 2010s and won two statewide Pennsylvania primaries, one for lieutenant governor in 2018 and another for U.S. senator this year. His history of opposing hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) to extract natural gas didn’t burden him in those races. 

But now the Democratic lieutenant governor faces a general election for U.S. Senate against Republican celebrity surgeon Mehmet Oz. And although Fetterman now says he does not support prohibiting fracking, his past support for a fracking ban promises to complicate his appeal to working Keystone Staters on whose livelihoods fossil-fuel development depends. 

In 2016, during his first run for Senate, Fetterman called fracking a “stain” on his state, asserting that he was “not pro-fracking” and that “if we did things right in this state, we wouldn’t have fracking.” He also touted his signing of a pledge to “end” the practice. 

In the same Reddit post, he wrote, “[Y]es, of course I worry about the viability of getting a ban on fracking done when the industry is already so entrenched in Pennsylvania.” Still, during his 2018 campaign for lieutenant governor, he reiterated his hostility to the fossil-fuel industry.

“I don’t support fracking at all and I never have,” Fetterman told left-wing webcaster Joy Marie Mann in 2018. “And I’ve signed the No Fossil Fuels Money Pledge and I have never received a dime from any natural gas or oil company whatsoever.” 

Later that year, he was elected as lieutenant governor jointly with gubernatorial re-election candidate Tom Wolf, who didn’t oppose fracking outright despite supporting onerous environmental regulations.

Fetterman has since reversed his position and “does not support a fracking moratorium or ban.” When Fox News recently confronted him about the flip-flop, the candidate’s spokesman Joe Carvello said, “John believes that we have to preserve the union way of life for the thousands of workers currently employed or supported by the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania and the communities where they live. We can’t just abandon these people, and tell them to go learn how to code.” 

(The remark about learning how to code referred to a December 2019 comment that Joe Biden made while campaigning for the White House suggesting that miners in the struggling coal industry “learn to [write computer] code” in hope of finding new work.) 

Carvello went on to distance his candidate from Biden and socialist former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who Fetterman has also supported. 

“John is not like Bernie, or Biden, or any other politician in Washington for that matter,” he said. “He’s John Fetterman, and there is no one else like him.”

Biden has himself walked a challenging line appealing to the anti-fossil-fuel base of his Democratic Party and the working-class communities that don’t want to see family-sustaining jobs eliminated. When asked during a debate in 2019 if he saw any place for fossil-fuel development, the soon-to-be president said he would “make sure it’s eliminated.” 

Fetterman’s Republican critics see a parallel between the Senate candidate and the president on this issue. 

“The Fetterman-Biden agenda has led to an all-out affront on Pennsylvania’s energy industry,” Republican National Committee Spokesperson Rachel Lee. “Voters know better than to trust flip-flopping Fetterman on an issue that would cost 600,000 Pennsylvanians their livelihoods.”

– – –

Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “John Fetterman” by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. Background Photo “Title” by Tim Evanson. CC BY-SA 2.0.