No Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying the state of Ohio. Given the state’s shale gas reserves, Ohio stands on the verge of a possible natural gas-backed economic and employment boom.
Therefore, in an effort to block Mitt Romney’s path to the presidency through Ohio, President Barack Obama has muted the anti-fracking rhetoric and natural gas regulations some environmentalists argue he should impose.
Earlier this month, the Obama Administration eased up on important fracking regulations that would have slowed energy exploration in battleground states like the all-important Buckeye State.
“Anybody who stands in the way of the fracking boom is seen as standing in the way of jobs," Democratic state Representative Robert Hagan conceded to Reuters.
In his State of the Union speech, Mr. Obama admitted that the natural gas industry could create 600,000 jobs within the next eight years. And by 2014, oil and gas drilling stand to add over 65,000 new jobs and $5 billion to Ohio’s economy.
"I understand Obama's position, politically. The regulations have been quite a bit less than I would desire, but they would be infinitely [less] under Republicans," says Dave Simons, former chairman of the Sierra Club conservation group's Ohio panel on fracking. "Economic times are tough. There is big money in this, and ... [people] are willing to take a chance on this."
Still, last week, the New Yorkers Against Fracking organization hosted a star-studded concert rally to oppose hydraulic fracking. Attending the event were actors Mark Ruffalo and Melissa Leo, as well as Natalie Merchant, John Sebastian, Joan Osborne, and several others.
But with Ohioans struggling to find jobs in the Obama economy, environmental posturing on fracking doesn’t appear to be resonating with the state’s voters. “The way some people's finances are now,” said Rich Clendenning, an Ohio welder looking for fracking work, “they would probably put up with earthquakes if it meant they had a job."
Whether Mr. Obama will pay an electoral price among environmentalists for his politically expedient position on fracking remains to be seen. However, last week, former Obama green jobs advisor Van Jones confessed that he and other environmentalists muted criticisms of Mr. Obama during the BP oil spill:
You’ve never seen the environmental movement more quiet during an oil spill. I guarantee you if John McCain had been president, with that oil spill, or George Bush had been president with that oil spill, I’d have been out there with a sign protesting. I didn’t, because of who the president was… that’s not good for the earth, it’s not good for the cause, it’s probably not good for the president. It’s certainly not the way we should conduct ourselves. And so, I’m very tough on progressive movements and leaders, including myself, who did not stand on principle, based on who we looked across and saw as president.
Will the environmental movement remain silent again to help Mr. Obama win the all-important state of Ohio? We’ll know come November.