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When he was running for president in 2016, Donald Trump made it clear that he would be a friend to the coal industry when he was in the White House. On Tuesday, the president made it clear that he’s equally fond of natural gas.

The president came to Potter Township in Beaver County to tour the huge cracker plant, a petrochemical complex that Royal Dutch Shell is building along the Ohio River there.

As noted in our story on the visit by business writer Rick Shrum, Trump seemed as if he wanted to take credit for the cracker plant, even though Shell officially announced it would build the facility in 2016, while Barack Obama was still president.

Regardless, Trump had nothing but praise for the project.

“This is the largest investment in the history of Pennsylvania,” he contended. “We’ve released America’s energy, and we are restoring America’s heritage of building again. This is one of our biggest industrial projects, and it’s made possible by our clean, affordable natural gas.”

The Beaver County project marks the first time a cracker plant has been built in this country outside of the Gulf Coast in 20 years. The plant, which will cost $6 billion, will take ethane from Marcellus and Utica shale gas and heat it to create polyethylene, which is used in plastics and common household goods.

As Shrum’s story noted, a lot of that shale gas will be coming from Greene and Washington counties.

The cracker plant already is having a major economic impact on the region. There are 4,500 people involved in the construction of the massive facility. Once the plant is completed, which is expected to be in 2021, there will be an estimated 600 permanent employees. But, of course, the cracker plant will have a ripple effect, creating more employment around the entire region.

Speaking to a crowd of about 5,000 people, many of them workers at the plant, Trump also pointed to gains in the steel industry, which he said have occurred as a result of tariffs he imposed.

“Steel was dead,” said Trump. “We put a 25% tariff on steel, and much of it was being dumped, and steel is thriving again. Steel mills are expanding; many new mills are being built.”

The president said the energy sector, with natural gas playing a major role, is a key to the nation’s economy.

“We’re seeing the future of energy independence,” said Trump. “We have that independence, but what we really want is American dominance.”

The president likewise praised the people who are working in the industry, telling those in attendance Tuesday, “You patriots are the backbone, the absolute backbone of this country.”

Not everyone, of course, is a supporter of the cracker plant.

In nearby Beaver, a group of about 100 environmental activists and concerned citizens rallied and marched to draw attention to the pollution impacts that might accompany the plant.

As with any industrial operation, there will be some environmental effects. That is indisputable. The key is to minimize those effects while reaping the equally indisputable economic benefits the plant will bring to all of Southwestern Pennsylvania and beyond.

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