Just as damning is Casey’s dogged stewardship of the FRAC Act, which is threatening to gut natural-gas production in western Pennsylvania over flimsy environmental concerns about horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The process is behind a virtual rebirth of the long-depressed Rust Belt, and is transforming western Pennsylvania into an epicenter of low-cost energy production, creating jobs not just in the gas industry, but also by facilitating a number of industrial processes that depend on natural gas, from aluminum to glass production. Casey’s bill would turn over regulation of drilling in the region’s Marcellus shale formation to the federal government at the worst possible time, endangering as many as 240,000 jobs and sending a message to his state’s own regulators that they aren’t up to the task of balancing environmental concerns against economic exigencies.
Tom Smith is in a good position to communicate just how devastating Casey’s energy agenda is. A self-made man who put off college to run the family farm when his father took ill, Smith later became a coal miner and eventually started a successful coal interest of his own. Like many in the Rust Belt, Smith was a lifelong Democrat who realized that the party had drifted away from him and found like-minded people in the nascent tea parties. His averred positions and demeanor mark him as a straightforward conservative with a mildly populist bent, with the right instincts on reining in spending and simplifying the tax code, and his campaign has been competent and cost-effectively run. He has demonstrated the ability as well to appeal to independents and Reagan Democrats (a term Smith frequently uses), and deserves to make Pat Toomey the senior senator from Pennsylvania.
The data and dynamics of the race make it a foregone conclusion that Casey and Obama will pay dearly for their war on carbon in western Pennsylvania, and Romney looks poised to win there by wider margins than did McCain. With a strong final week, and a bit of luck in the Philadelphia suburbs, Tom Smith could ride that wave to an upset victory over Senator Casey on November 6. And that would be good news, for Pennsylvania and for America.