President Donald Trump recounted his administration’s efforts to improve American manufacturing and the economy during his speech inside Royal Dutch Shell’s multibillion-dollar ethane cracker plant in Beaver County.
He said when the cracker plant is completed, it will transform natural gas from Pennsylvania into plastic “stamped with the very beautiful phrase, ‘Made in the USA.’”
The crowd inside the plant responded with a thunderous chant of “USA. USA. USA.”
“Your future has never looked brighter or better,” Trump said to people in Western Pennsylvania and Appalachia. “When this plant opens, 600 American workers will get full time jobs with great pay to support a family.”
The Shell plant will produce small, plastic pellets that make up many popular consumer goods.
Trump spoke for nearly an hour. He said that on his first day in office, he ended the war on American energy. Trump said that if Hillary Clinton had won in 2016, projects like the cracker plant would not be advancing and the natural gas, coal and steel industries would be far worse off.
“It was the Trump administration that made it possible, no one else,” Trump said during his speech to an audience made up mostly of construction workers at the Shell plant. “Without us, you would have never been able to do this.”
Shell formally announced in June 2016 before Trump was elected that it would go ahead with construction, but the company and government leaders began working on the project years before that. The company signed a land-option agreement to begin evaluating the sprawling property as a potential plant site in March 2012.
Trump’s staff had said that his visit to Beaver County would not be a campaign trip, but the the president rolled out many familiar topics from his 2016 campaign and his 2020 bid. He talked about the failures of Clinton and former President Barack Obama. He mentioned his wins in 2016 in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. He brought up the wall he wants to build along the southern border and encouraged people to vote in 2020.
“We’re running in 2020 so you better get out there“ and vote, Trump said.
Inside the plant, there were thousands of workers in yellow and orange construction vests. Behind the podium was a large American flag and a sign saying “American Energy Independence” was off to the sides.
Trump, Shell executives and U.S. Energy Sec. Rick Perry toured the plant after his speech. They stopped by a crane that Trump said was either the first or second largest crane in the world.
Standing on a T-shaped slab of fresh concrete — an island in the middle of the gravel-grounded site — Trump said that Shell had built it for him for the tour.
”It’s brand new, just poured, so that I wouldn’t get my feet wet,” Trump said. “That’s called quality.”
Trump ended by teasing a new Energy Department announcement.
“Rick is going to be announcing a big project next week,” he said, pointing to Perry. He did not elaborate.
At 3:30pm, with the rain picking up, the motorcade was rolling back for Trump’s flight out of to Pittsburgh International Airport. Trump boarded Air Force One just before 4 p.m. and took off for New Jersey.
Outside the Beaver County Courthouse, about five miles away from where Trump was touring the Shell plant, protesters carrying signs, dressed in costumes and flying two large inflatables resembling the president — one as a toddler, the other as a chicken.
We now have a second inflatable. Protesters holding signs: “Truth is transparent,” “Dump Trump 2020,” “No hate, no fear,” “No Cancer Alley in Ohio River Valley.” Traffic moving well, for the most part — Some cars stopping to heckle or shout words of encouragement. pic.twitter.com/rHc9w0br6Y
— Jamie Martines (@Jamie_Martines) August 13, 2019
“People in Beaver County say, ‘We’ve always sacrificed our health for jobs, it’s what we do,’” said Terrie Baumgardner, of Aliquippa, who is also part of the environmental group Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Community.
That needs to change, especially in light of concerns about how pollution from the plant will impact air and water quality and long-term worries about climate change, she said.
“We have the alternatives,” Baumgardner said. “We need the political will to pursue them.”
The president did not pass by the courthouse. A group of about a half-dozen counter-protesters gathered across the street from the courthouse, at times chanting in support of the president.
Cody Wilson, 17, of Beaver, said he understands concerns about air and light pollution from the plant but still thinks the economic benefits of the plant outweigh the risks.
“It’s bringing in a lot of people to work, and that could boost the economy of Beaver,” he said.
Air Force One touched down at 1:08 p.m. at the Pennsylvania Air National Guard’s 171st Air Refueling Wing in Coraopolis ahead of President Donald Trump’s visit to Beaver County.
The president was greeted by several dozen supporters at the airport.
The crowd included Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods; State. Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Carroll; state Rep. Valerie Gaydos, R-Aleppo; Col. Russell Adams of the 171st, and Allegheny County Councilman Sam DeMarco and former county Councilman Ed Kress, both Republican.
Trump walked down the jetway at the runway, greeted Turzai, Bartolotta, and Adams and his family and waved to the crowd of supporters before climbing into the motorcade.
Trump left the airport at 1:25 p.m. for Beaver County. The motorcade arrived at the cracker plant at 1:45 p.m. The ride was uneventful.
Just landed in Pennsylvania. Looking forward to making a speech on energy. So important!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 13, 2019
Royal Dutch Shell’s multibillion-dollar ethane cracker plant is in Potter Township and one of the largest construction projects under way in the nation.
Before Air Force One left for Pittsburgh, Trump was asked about plastic pollution. He said the plastic in the ocean is coming across from Asia.
Trump was joined by U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler.
Trump initially was slated to visit the Shell plant Aug. 8. He postponed the trip following the back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
Motorists should expect rolling closures on I-376 between the airport and the cracker plant between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., according to PennDOT. Traffic on bridges over I-376 will be stopped for short periods of time, creating small backups.
Route 18 west of the I-376 and Pleasant Hills Road approaching Route 18 will be closed during the entire visit, PennDOT said.
Construction of the Shell complex, located about 35 miles northwest of Pittsburgh along the Ohio River, broke ground more than two years ago and currently employs about 4,500 construction workers.
When complete, the plant is expected to employ about 600 full-time employees.
Protesters started to gather around noon at the Beaver County Courthouse. Some passing by in cars or on foot stopped to cheer on protesters, while others shouted “Trump 2020” and heckled the crowd.
“I hope it makes them think about the upcoming election and his policies,” said Natalie Leslie, a 16-year-old student from Chippewa who was one of the lead organizers of the protest.
Natalie, who is the youth feminist chair for the group Southwest PA NOW, said she worries about how pollution from the plant will impact young people and effect climate change.
“It’s going to come with a lot of health effects on the children growing up here,” she said.
About 20 Southwest Pennsylvania environmental groups, Democratic and progressive organizations sponsored the rally.
Protesters from across the Ohio River Valley — which stretches through Southwest Pennsylvania to Kentucky — attended the rally, including Bev Reed, 27, of Bridgeport, Ohio.
“I don’t think people really understand what a large impact this industry can have on the present and future,” said Reed, who spoke on behalf of the group Concerned Ohio River Residents.
Reed lives about 10 miles from a proposed cracker plant in Belmont County, Ohio.
The plant will use ethane from the Marcellus and Utica shale reservoirs — which stretch through Pennsylvania and neighboring states — to “crack” ethane molecules, breaking them down to produce ethylene and polyethylene, which are used to make a range of plastic products.
“Ever since I saw the plant I couldn’t get it out of my mind,” said Deanna Rushing, 58, of Louisville, Kentucky. She first visited Beaver County in January and returned Tuesday dressed in a costume make out of old household plastic products like bags and food containers. “It’s like a nightmare.”
A letter signed by 13 Pittsburgh-area environmental groups urged Trump to meet with local residents to hear their concerns about the drawbacks of the plant.
“The Shell plant you are visiting today will erase 30 years’ worth of air quality improvements if it begins operating,” the letter said, claiming that the plant will emit as much carbon dioxide as 424,000 cars.
The protests wrapped up around 2:30 p.m.
Both Shell and the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a Robinson-based organization representing dozens of energy and drilling companies, issued statements responding to the planned protests.
“It’s an honor to host the president and to give him an up-close view of how we’ve transformed this site into a future business that will employ thousands of Americans and return billions to the regional economy for decades,” Shell said in a statement.
David Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, said the Shell facility was “as state of the art as you can get.” He said he’s confident that health and safety concerns will be addressed.
“We can listen to the critics, or we can continue to do our work,” he said, describing the new plant as the first real signal of change and growth in the region in decades.