Trump claims credit for Beaver County cracker plant, reviving economy during Western Pa. visit
President Trump boasted Tuesday afternoon about his administration’s efforts to “revive” the nation’s energy and manufacturing sectors during a visit to Royal Dutch Shell’s ethane cracker plant construction site in Beaver County.
Trump also took credit for the multibillion-dollar project’s existence.
“It was the Trump administration that made it possible, no one else,” Trump said during his speech inside a warehouse at the Shell site to an audience of mostly construction and trade workers employed there. “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.
‘Your future has never looked brighter’
The Shell plant will produce small, plastic pellets that make up many popular consumer goods. The site about 35 miles northwest of Pittsburgh along the Ohio River is the nation’s largest active construction project, requiring more than 4,500 temporary workers. Construction began in earnest in 2017 and is set to continue through 2020.
Trump told the crowd of nearly 5,000 people that, once the cracker plant is completed, it will transform natural gas from Pennsylvania into plastic “stamped with the very beautiful phrase, ‘Made in the USA.’ ”
Workers clad in yellow and orange reflective vests inside the plant responded with a thunderous chant of “USA, USA, USA.”
“Your future has never looked brighter or better,” Trump said. “When this plant opens, 600 American workers will get full-time jobs with great pay to support a family.”
Trump spoke for nearly an hour. A large American flag hung behind his podium, which was flanked by signs that read “American Energy Independence.” 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 or “dead.”
Wooing W.Pa. voters
Trump’s staff said the visit to Beaver County would not be a campaign trip, but the president rolled out many familiar topics from his 2016 campaign and his 2020 re-election bid. He talked about the failures of Clinton and former President Barack Obama. He mentioned his critical wins in 2016 in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania — including a 20-point victory in Beaver County. He brought up the wall he wants to build along the southern border, the 2017 federal tax cut bill, steel tariffs and efforts to extend pipeline projects in Texas and Alaska.
He encouraged people to vote for him next year.
“We’re running in 2020, so you better get out there and make sure we win,” Trump said.
As Trump spoke, a protest against him continued about five miles away from the Shell plant outside the Beaver County Courthouse.
Protesters expressing concerns over how the plant will impact air and water quality carried signs, dressed in costumes and displayed two large inflatables resembling the president — one as a toddler, the other as a chicken.
“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 part of the environmental group Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Community.
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.
“We have the alternatives,” Baumgardner said. “We need the political will to pursue them.”
Some passing by in cars or on foot stopped to cheer on protesters, while others shouted “Trump 2020” and heckled the crowd.
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,” Wilson said.
In a statement, Shell said that 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.”
David Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a Robinson-based organization representing dozens of energy and drilling companies, said the Shell facility was “as state-of-the-art as you can get.”
“We can listen to the critics, or we can continue to do our work,” Spigelmyer said.
State, local dignitaries greet Trump at airport
Air Force One touched down at 1:08 p.m. at the Pennsylvania Air National Guard’s 171st Air Refueling Wing in Coraopolis.
The president was greeted by several dozen supporters at the airport.
He shook hands on the jetway with Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, and state. Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Carroll, then waved to a few dozen other supporters cheering from an enclosed area a few hundred feet away before climbing into the motorcade.
After Trump’s speech, Shell executives and Energy Secretary Rick Perry took a brief tour of the plant. 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 Shell built it just for his visit on the rainy day.
”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 3:30 p.m., with the rain picking up, the motorcade was rolling back for Trump’s flight out of Pittsburgh International Airport. Trump boarded Air Force One just before 4 p.m. and took off for New Jersey.
Trump plans to make a formal campaign stop in New Hampshire on Thursday.