The President is in Pennsylvania today to promote growth in manufacturing jobs, a key issue that likely helped carry him to victory in the Keystone State in 2016. Sadly, a large amount of the growth that Pennsylvania had been experiencing came from the oil and gas industry, particularly natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale deposits. With a glut of natural gas in some parts of the country, prices have dropped. That’s great news for consumers, but not so great for the employers in the region.

With that in mind, President Trump is highlighting a new plant that is finding another use for natural gas rather than heating people’s homes. They’re turning it into… plastic. (Associated Press)

Trying to hold support in the manufacturing towns that helped him win the White House in 2016, President Donald Trump is showcasing growing efforts to capitalize on western Pennsylvania’s natural gas deposits by turning gas into plastics.

Trump will be in Monaca, about 40 minutes north of Pittsburgh, on Tuesday to tour Shell’s soon-to-be completed Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex. The facility, which critics claim will become the largest air polluter in western Pennsylvania, is being built in an area hungry for investment.

The focus is part of a continued push by the Trump administration to increase the economy’s dependence on fossil fuels in defiance of increasingly urgent warnings about climate change. And it’s an embrace of plastic at a time when the world is sounding alarms over its ubiquity and impact.

A new plant in Beaver County will be good news for Pennsylvania in terms of jobs, but this development is setting off all sorts of alarm bells with both environmentalists and energy industry analysts. And in this case, they might have a point.

There’s been an increasing focus on trying to cut down on, if not entirely eliminate plastic waste. I’m not part of the Green New Deal crew by any stretch of the imagination as regular readers know, but even I’m alarmed by the mounting masses of non-biodegradable plastic that are showing up everywhere and raising health concerns associated with them. Is using up ethane gas to create a “precursor of plastic” really the best use of our resources?

Even more to the point, while some areas are saturated with natural gas, others can’t get enough and local prices tend to spike. This is because of a lack of infrastructure (i.e. pipelines) along with liberal opposition to expanding carrying capacity. If we want to use up Pennsylvania’s natural gas supplies more quickly and keep those jobs going, a better investment of Donald Trump’s time would be to get to work on the pipeline problem. That could spur job growth in multiple areas while stabilizing our fuel supplies across all regions.

Still, the plant is already close to being in operation and they are aware of the emissions issue and the limits they have to meet in terms of pollution. There might be some political benefit to it and we can always use more jobs. But man… the optics of this (converting fossil fuels to plastic) are pretty awful.