Trump touts cracker plant, jobs, economy during Pa. visit

MONACA — The president is crackers about the cracker plant — and job creation and the economy.

He touted all of them — and himself — Tuesday afternoon.

Donald Trump toured the massive Beaver County petrochemical complex Royal Dutch Shell is constructing along the Ohio River.

An estimated crowd of 5,000 — most of them plant employees — jammed inside one of the buildings to listen to the president, who spoke for 69 minutes, claiming successes in ramping up employment in the manufacturing and energy sectors, singling out the Shell Chemicals facility for its progress en route to an expected 2021 opening.

Trump seemed to take credit for the project, even though Royal Dutch Shell proposed it in 2012 and gave it the go-ahead in 2016, both while Barack Obama was in the White House. Work began in fall 2017, during the Trump administration.

“This is the largest investment in the history of Pennsylvania,” he claimed. “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.”

Later, again referring to the 40-acre complex, Trump said it “looks like the Eighth Wonder of the World.”

The president had planned to tour the ethane cracker facility last Thursday, but postponed the visit after mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas.

On Tuesday, he got a close look at the first major cracker plant to be built in the United States outside of the Gulf Coast in two decades. The $6 billion project will enable Shell to take ethane from Marcellus and Utica shale gas, then heat it to convert it to polyethylene, a building block for plastics and common household goods. An estimated 1.6 million tons of polyethylene may be produced in a year there.

Washington and Greene counties annually are among the state’s top producers of shale gas.

About 4,500 construction workers are building the facility. When production begins, the facility will employ have about 600.

Trump roundly praised the collective work ethic and resilience of Pennsylvanians, and the dedication of union employees. He talked about the steel industry gaining momentum, largely as a result of tariffs he imposed.

“Steel was dead,” he said. “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.”

Trump said, “Unemployment has reached lows we hadn’t seen since the ’60s.”

The president also hammered his predecessor, Obama, claiming the 44th president said, “‘We’d need a magic wand to bring back manufacturing jobs.’ We’ve brought back 600,000 manufacturing jobs.”

Trump closed his speech with further praise for energy and the nation’s workforce.

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

Looking across the vast audience, he pointed and said, “You patriots are the backbone, the absolute backbone of this country.”

Trump’s protesters were active Tuesday, though not in the immediate vicinity of the cracker plant, which is inaccessible to anyone not working or doing business on the site.

Environmental supporters, activists and concerned citizens, angry over the president’s tour and wary of pollution impacts the cracker plant may have, also were out. A group of about 100 rallied and marched in nearby Beaver during the afternoon, walking from Irvine Park to Beaver Greens Park in that city.