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In Crucial Pennsylvania, Democrats Worry a Fracking Ban Could Sink Them

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PITTSBURGH — Though they are both Democrats, John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, and Bill Peduto, this city’s mayor, have their differences on the environment.

Mr. Fetterman, who toppled an incumbent Democrat in 2018 from the left, nevertheless calls Pennsylvania “the Saudi Arabia of natural gas” and sees extracting and taxing gas as critical to the state’s economy and the “union way of life.” Mr. Peduto lobbied unsuccessfully against a local petrochemical plant and is steering his once-struggling steel town to be independent of fossil fuels within 15 years.

But they agree on one thing: a pledge to ban all hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, could jeopardize any presidential candidate’s chances of winning this most critical of battleground states — and thus the presidency itself. So as Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren woo young environmental voters with a national fracking ban, these two Democrats are uneasy.

“In Pennsylvania, you’re talking hundreds of thousands of related jobs that would be — they would be unemployed overnight,” said Mr. Fetterman, who endorsed Mr. Sanders in 2016 before Donald J. Trump won his state, pop. 12.8 million, by just over 44,000 votes. “Pennsylvania is a margin play,” he added. “And an outright ban on fracking isn’t a margin play.”

Mr. Peduto said “the Warren-Sanders, ban-all-fracking-right-now” position would “absolutely devastate communities throughout the Rust Belt” and pit environmentalists against workers at a time when Democrats need both.

“If a candidate comes into this state and tries to sell that policy, they’re going to have a hard time winning,” he said.

In critical pockets of the country, perhaps none more so than Pennsylvania, the issue of fracking could become vital in the general election, according to union leaders, Democratic politicians and Republican strategists. Potential battleground states where Democrats nurse dreams of winning, like Ohio and Texas, are hotbeds of natural gas — Texas has 137,000 natural gas wells — and Mr. Trump has signaled he hopes for a Republican comeback in New Mexico, another fracking state.

Mr. Trump has made plain that his unabashed advocacy for oil and gas development will be central to his re-election, as he blasts Democrats as “anti-energy zealots.” And Democrats like Mr. Peduto and Mr. Fetterman take him seriously. Fresh for both are the wounds of 2016, when Hillary Clinton was sharply criticized for her line about putting coal miners and companies “out of business” even though, at the time, she also spoke of creating new economic opportunities for coal workers.

In some ways, the fracking ban is indicative of the entire political bet undergirding the candidacies of Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren that the 2020 campaign will not be won by appeals to the narrow interests of traditional swing voters but through the mass mobilization of an energized electorate.

Mr. Trump will demagogue on energy regardless of the Democrats’ positions, they argue; better to inspire young voters and others impassioned to tackle climate change, especially in cities like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, than to worry about isolated voters in Western Pennsylvania’s fracking country. “Dream big, fight hard,” as Ms. Warren’s slogan goes.

“It goes to the heart of the debate that we’re seeing within the Democratic Party right now, which is the appetite among progressives and the left for an agenda that remains unpalatable to swing voters in the states that determine the Electoral College,” said Amy Walter, national editor of the Cook Political Report.

Ashleigh Deemer, deputy director of PennEnvironment, which supports a ban, is unmoved by the low support for a full ban. “The model is changing,” she said. “Everything we know about how to win a campaign is changing.”

Driving through downtown Monaca, Pa., it is hard to imagine cars backed up past the Shear Utopia hair salon, window repair shops and lonely P-Dub’s Sports Bar and Grille. But State Representative Robert F. Matzie, a Democrat, insists a planned $4 million roundabout will be needed in a few years to deal with the bottleneck coming to State Route 51, “because of the cracker.”

“The cracker” is shorthand for a $6 billion Royal Dutch Shell petrochemical complex under construction in Beaver County, just northwest of Pittsburgh, that will convert ethane, a natural gas liquid fracked in Southwestern Pennsylvania, into pellets for plastic manufacturing. It gets its nickname from the chemical reaction known as cracking.

Born and raised in Western Pennsylvania during the decline of the steel industry, Mr. Matzie said he remembered finding fewer students in his class after each summer vacation because their parents got laid off and moved away. Now, handsome new townhomes are being erected with views of the construction site smokestacks.

A candidate who wants to ban hydraulic fracturing cannot win the state, he said plainly; his vote in the primary will most likely go to Mr. Biden.

“He’s quite frankly probably the only guy you could stand onstage with in Beaver County,” Mr. Matzie said.

In neighboring Washington County, which has the most fracking wells in the state, Republicans took control of the county commission for the first time in two decades last fall. The remaining Democratic commissioner, Larry Maggi, said he could not support a nominee who supported a ban.

Fracking triggers similar passions for environmental activists, who lament its immediate impact on the earth and what they say is its stalling of progress toward clean, renewable energy.

United Nations scientists have urged a deadline for achieving net-zero global emissions — that is, eliminating as much greenhouse gas pollution from the atmosphere as humans generate — by 2050. That goal will require an aggressive transition to wind, solar and other power sources that do not generate climate-warming carbon dioxide. Once viewed charitably as a “bridge” to a cleaner future because it produces far less carbon than coal or oil, natural gas has become a new front in the climate change fight.

Mr. Peduto said that was, in part, why he has opposed the cracker plant. “The people in the Rust Belt are being sold false hope of, ‘Just sacrifice your land and your air and your water one more time and we will provide you with all of these jobs,’” he said.

Yet he had a warning for national Democrats. “This presidential race comes down to about ten states,” he said. “And if you are trying to pass universal bans, it will never happen.”

The numbers are not that conclusive. In 2016, Mr. Trump outpaced Mrs. Clinton by a combined 40,700 votes in Washington and Beaver Counties — almost double the margin that Mitt Romney secured over Barack Obama four years earlier. And Democrats could fall further. Mr. Trump won those two counties by 60 percent and 57 percent — a lower margin than more rural parts of the state.

Union leaders meeting for lunch one recent afternoon at an Italian restaurant on the outskirts of Pittsburgh said they could not afford to be dismissive of jobs like the ones constructing the cracker plant, where wages, pensions and benefits can run into the six figures.

“At the end of the day, if I don’t have a job, if I don’t have health care, if I can’t take care of my family, it doesn’t matter if we have global peace and gun control and everything else,” said Jeff Nobers, executive director of the Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania.

“This is one of the most robust economies in the country,” Mr. Nobers added, “and it’s mostly fueled by, yeah, the gas industry, the burgeoning petrochemical industry, manufacturing. And you have politicians that say, no, we don’t need this because there’s 200 people working for Google in East Liberty,” referring to a shining commercial area of Pittsburgh.

Four of the labor leaders, all Democrats who said they supported Mrs. Clinton in 2016, said they would most likely sit out the 2020 election if Mr. Sanders or Ms. Warren were the nominee.

“If we end up with a Democratic candidate that supports a fracking ban, I’m going to tell my members that they either don’t vote or vote for the other guy,” said James T. Kunz Jr., business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers.

A fifth labor leader, a registered Democrat, said he had voted for Mr. Trump and that he intended to do so again.

Mark Dixon, a documentary filmmaker and environmental activist from Pittsburgh, said hearing the liberal candidates’ call for a fracking ban was an “extraordinary moment.”

“I was overjoyed and stunned that the conversation had moved that far that fast,” Mr. Dixon said.

He viewed Mr. Biden’s dismissal of an anti-fracking environmentalist in December as “a slap in the face.” In the exchange posted online by the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate change advocacy group, Mr. Biden told the activist, “Well, you ought to vote for someone else.”

Mr. Fetterman, the Pennsylvania lieutenant governor, is no moderate. Mr. Sanders campaigned for him in 2018. His wife, who came to America as an undocumented immigrant, recently endorsed Ms. Warren.

But while he insisted that every major Democrat could carry Pennsylvania, he sounded especially bullish on Mr. Biden. “Being completely neutral, Joe Biden would be all but impossible for Trump to beat,” he said.



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Interactive science at East End

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WILMINGTON — At East End’s recent Science Night, activities gave students opportunities to deepen their learning of science concepts through problem solving, questioning and engagement.

Families were invited to come to East End after school to enjoy a meal and then to rotate through different science stations that were set up in the gym.

The stations were led by high school science students and fifth-grade teachers.

This opportunity was possible because of a grant that East End received from the Wilmington Schools Foundation.







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MSU researchers invent significant advancement in Hopkinson bar technology

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Mississippi State and REL personnel hold the MSU-developed serpentine bar technology, a significant advancement in Hopkinson bar systems. Pictured, from left, is MSU Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems Associate Director Hongjoo Rhee, REL Co-owner Adam Loukus, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Haitham El Kadiri, REL Engineer Luke Luskin, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Wilburn Whittington, REL President Josh Loukus, mechanical engineering doctoral student Trey Leonard of Madison, Alabama, and mechanical engineering undergraduate student Billy Zhang of Starkville. (Submitted photo)

Contact: James Carskadon

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State University researchers have patented and licensed a major advancement in split Hopkinson pressure bar technology, significantly reducing the amount of space needed for intermediate and high-strain rate testing.

While conducting research on infant head trauma, researchers at MSU’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems needed a way to conduct impact testing with biological materials. While a traditional Hopkinson bar system, an apparatus commonly used for testing impact and strain on materials, would have worked, it would have taken up hundreds of feet in length—space that was not available at the bustling research center. However, CAVS engineer Wilburn Whittington, with the support of colleagues Haitham El Kadiri and Hongjoo Rhee, was able to prototype a serpentine bar that can accomplish the same task in only 20 feet of space.

Whittington is an assistant professor in MSU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. El Kadiri is an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and holds the Coleman-Whiteside Professorship. Rhee is an associate professor at the same department and is an associate director at CAVS.

“We’ve already used this product in our work for the military, national labs, and automotive companies,” said Whittington. “This has tremendous potential for universities and laboratories, as well as any company making materials or looking at crash testing and other tests like that.”

After the research team patented the new technology, it gained interest from the scientific community and REL, a Michigan-based manufacturer that makes and sells Hopkinson bar systems. Working with MSU’s Office of Technology Management, El Kadiri, Rhee and Whittington were able to license the serpentine bar technology to REL, which began marketing the product this week at The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society annual conference in San Diego, California.

Whittington said the serpentine bar can be used as a new product and also used to enhance old products, making shorter Hopkinson bar systems capable of conducting tests that previously required significantly more space. He noted that in labs that conduct high-speed tests with radioactive materials, these materials must be handled in specialized rooms, which puts space at a premium.

“People test things like explosives and armor on these systems,” Whittington said. “Like with biological materials, these labs have to be specialized, so a serpentine bar gives them more testing abilities.”

El Kadiri, Rhee, and Whittington were able to commercialize their invention through a Mississippi University Research Agreement, which allowed them to form a private company to market the technology, Standard Dynamics, LLC. In addition to showcasing the technology in San Diego this week, MSU and REL personnel will highlight the serpentine bar at the Society of Experimental Mechanics annual conference this summer in Orlando, Florida.

For more on CAVS, visit www.cavs.msstate.edu.

For more on the Office of Technology Management, visit www.otm.msstate.edu.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.



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Coronavirus Live Updates: Iran’s Deputy Health Minister Tests Positive

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Iran’s deputy health minister, Iraj Harirchi, who has spearheaded the country’s efforts to contain the coronavirus, has contracted the illness, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday, renewing concerns about the spread of the virus in the country.

In an interview with the state-run news outlet IRNA, a spokesman for the ministry said that Mr. Harirchi had been experiencing weakness and flulike symptoms on Monday before holding a news briefing, and tested positive for the virus later in the day. It is unclear how he contracted the virus, but health officials said he had been dealing with some patients suspected of having the coronavirus.

During the briefing, Mr. Harirchi could be seen repeatedly wiping sweat from his brow and shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot. On Tuesday, he posted a video from home detailing his diagnosis and self-quarantine.

The number of coronavirus cases and deaths continued to rise in Iran on Tuesday, according to health officials, days after the country emerged as another focal point of the outbreak.

Health officials quoted in Iranian state news media confirmed three more deaths in the country, bringing the total to 15. At least 95 people nationwide have tested positive for the coronavirus, most of them in the northern city of Qom, health officials said.

With an economy choked by economic sanctions, a restive population that distrusts its government and a secretive leadership, Iran is something of a wild card in the region.

While the numbers of the infected do not look too daunting so far, experts fear that the government may be concealing the true scale of the problem, and may not have the capacity to respond effectively if things begin to spiral out of control.

A hotel on the Spanish resort island of Tenerife was placed under a police cordon on Tuesday after an Italian guest tested positive for the new coronavirus, the authorities said.

According to local news reports, around 1,000 guests are booked at the hotel, the H10 Costa Adeje Palace, at a resort that is popular with British tourists. It remained unclear whether an official quarantine was in place.

Officials at the Canary Emergency Services Department are working to determine the severity of the outbreak in the building. In recent cases, including the quarantine of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, the authorities demanded quarantine periods of at least 14 days.

Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands, a Spanish territory off the coast of West Africa.

The Italian patient is being kept in isolation at a hospital on the island, pending the results of a second test to be conducted in Madrid by Spain’s National Center of Microbiology.

The hotel guests have been told to remain in their rooms, according to Antena 3, a Spanish television channel, while health inspectors are checking people inside who could have come into contact with the Italian.

Guests were given a note by the hotel management asking them to stay in their rooms and telling them that for health reasons, the hotel had been temporarily closed.

  • Updated Feb. 10, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • How worried should I be?
      While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.

Police enlarged the security cordon around the hotel to block access to nearby streets and a parking lot on Tuesday morning.

According to the local news media, the man who tested positive is a doctor who was visiting from Lombardy, a region of Italy that has been hit particularly hard by the virus. He reportedly took himself to a hospital with a fever about a week after arriving in Tenerife.

Spain previously confirmed two cases of the virus, both foreigners who were hospitalized on Spanish islands: a German citizen on La Gomera and a Briton on Majorca.

The authorities in Italy, the center of the worst outbreak of the coronavirus outside Asia, reported new infections on Tuesday, with a total of 283 cases, up from 229 a day earlier, and reports of new cases in Tuscany and Sicily.

Calling the coronavirus “a plague,” an Iraqi lawmaker demanded on Tuesday that the government seal its borders with Iran “until the disease is completely controlled,” the same day that Iraq’s Health Ministry announced four more cases of the virus.

The demand, by Qutayba al-Jubori, chairman of the Iraqi Parliament’s Health and Environment Committee, came as governments across the region sought to limit the entry of Iranian travelers following an outbreak in that country that has killed at least 15 people.

The Iraqi government said it would suspend all flights from Iran beginning Monday afternoon, but by Tuesday morning, flights were still scheduled to and from Najaf, a central Iraqi city that is home to Shiite shrines popular with Iranian pilgrims.

Iraq reported its first case of the virus on Monday, a 22-year old religion student in Najaf, who has been quarantined at a location outside the city. On Tuesday, the Health Ministry confirmed that a family of four from Kirkuk who had just returned from Iran had contracted the coronavirus and were being quarantined.

The government told citizens to avoid crowded places including shrines, universities and schools, shopping malls and stores, sports activities and entertainment parks. They also recommended avoiding kissing or shaking hands with others and urged people to use disposable napkins.

The firebrand cleric Moktada al-Sadr said he would suspend vast protests against his political opponents.

“I had called for million man protests and sit-ins against sectarian power-sharing and today I forbid you from them for your health and life, for they are more important to me than anything else,” he said in a statement.

Other nations in the region issued travel restrictions on Tuesday. The United Arab Emirates, home to Dubai International Airport, one of the world’s busiest, has suspended all flights to Iran.

Bahrain, which confirmed two cases in travelers who had flown from Iran via Dubai, said that it had suspended all its flights from Dubai International Airport and from Sharjah International Airport, also in the United Arab Emirates, for two days.

Global stocks stabilized on Tuesday, a day after fears of the spread of the new coronavirus outside China spooked investors into a worldwide sell-off.

Shares fell in most markets in Asia, led by Japan, which had closed for a holiday on Monday and missed that day’s drop. The Nikkei 225 index dropped more than 3.3 percent. Most other Asian markets fell at a much slower pace.

But shares in Europe opened higher, suggesting investors’ nerves had steadied. Futures trading indicated that American markets would rise when they opened on Tuesday.

The signs of stabilization followed a difficult Monday, when investors began to more fully comprehend the extent of the outbreak. On Wall Street, the S&P 500 index fell 3.4 percent on Monday, its worst single-day performance since February 2018. European markets recorded their worst session since 2016.

In China, the Shanghai stock market fell 0.6 percent, while the market in the city of Shenzhen rose by about half a percent. The Hong Kong market was little changed.

In South Korea, shaken by the world’s second-largest outbreak of the virus outside China, share prices rebounded on Tuesday morning after enduring one of the sharpest drops of any large market around the world the day before. They ended up 1.2 percent.

In Europe, London’s FTSE 100 was up 0.3 percent early, while German’s DAX rose 0.1 percent.

China appears to be getting the new coronavirus under control, but infections are spreading rapidly in South Korea, Iran and Italy. And the world is not prepared for a major outbreak, World Health Organization officials said on Monday.

A W.H.O. mission to China has said that the daily tally of new cases there peaked and then plateaued between Jan. 23 and Feb. 2, and has steadily declined since.

Chinese officials reported 508 new cases and 71 deaths as of Monday, a slower pace than in previous days.

By Tuesday, South Korea had reported a total of 893 cases, the second most in the world. Of the 60 new cases reported by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 49 came from Daegu, the center of the outbreak in that country.

In Iran, a spike in coronavirus infections has prompted fears of a contagion throughout the Middle East. In Italy, one of Europe’s largest economies, officials are struggling to prevent the epidemic from paralyzing the commercial center of Milan. And in New York, London, and Tokyo, financial markets plummeted on fears that the virus will cripple the global economy.

The emergence of Italy, Iran, and South Korea as new hubs of the outbreak underscored the lack of a coordinated global strategy to combat the coronavirus, which has infected nearly 80,000 people in 37 countries, causing at least 2,600 deaths.

The judge said she would reconsider the issue after state and federal authorities provide more details about how they plan to protect the health of the community, as well as the people with coronavirus. “The state has shown great empathy for the patients,” Judge Josephine L. Staton said in a ruling that drew applause, adding that she wanted to see “the same empathy for the residents of Costa Mesa.”

Costa Mesa had asked the judge to prevent California from moving people infected with the new coronavirus into a former residential home for developmentally disabled people, where the patients would remain in isolation while recovering. The area, which is in Orange County, is too heavily populated to host people infected with such a dangerous virus, the local officials argued.

Federal officials had planned to move the patients to a facility in Alabama operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, court documents said, but officials in California thought that moving the group out of the state would be detrimental to their health and well-being.

The standoff over where to send the patients underscored the unwieldy, decentralized nature of the U.S. health system, even as federal authorities were warning of serious risks from the coronavirus outbreak.

Beijing officials announced on Tuesday that they had ordered local governments to streamline the many new requirements they have imposed before companies can reopen after weeks of stalled production as a result of the outbreak

Worried that further infections might be blamed on them, local officials all over China have been demanding that companies pass extensive reviews and even on-site inspections before they can restart production. Rules include making sure that companies provide employees with face masks, keep track of employees’ temperatures and set up hand-washing stations.

Manufacturers of medical protection equipment can bypass the new rules almost entirely, so as to produce more face masks and other gear as quickly as possible.

But while Beijing is trying to restart the private sector, it does not want companies to mark up prices steeply for scarce products. Tang Jun, the deputy director of the State Administration of Market Regulation, said at a news briefing on Tuesday morning in Beijing that the Chinese government had investigated 4,500 companies for price gouging and was filing more than 11,000 legal cases.

The cases involved, “medical protective supplies and important commodities related to the people’s livelihood,” he said. More than 36,000 online vendors have already been identified as trying to overcharge specifically for face masks, he added, and electronic commerce companies have removed their overpriced listings.

Reporting and research was contributed by Raphael Minder, Matt Phillips, Russell Goldman, Megan Specia, Keith Bradsher, Gerry Mullany, Aimee Ortiz, Alissa Rubin, Elaine Yu, Mark Landler, Steven Lee Myers, Sui-Lee Wee, Farah Stockman, Louis Keene, Noah Weiland, Emily Cochrane and Maggie Haberman.





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