(NewsNation) — With the economy and crime grabbing most of the headlines, energy policy in the Pennsylvania Senate Race has received less attention, although it could play a role in the upcoming midterms.
Like other voters across the country, Pennsylvanians are primarily concerned about the economy and inflation, surveys show.
But pollsters point out that those concerns have become closely tied to the cost of fuel, which is up about $0.50 compared to this time last year.
“When people talk about inflation they tend to be talking about gas prices and food prices,” said Berwood Yost, the Director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll.
Republican candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz has made a habit of discussing his energy policy in the context of broader economic fears and blames President Joe Biden for the higher costs.
That rhetoric may be working in his favor.
Pennsylvanians now view Oz as having policies that will improve voters’ economic circumstances more so than Democrat John Fetterman (39% to 32%), according to a recent Franklin & Marshall College Poll.
On the other side, Fetterman has attempted to walk a fine line when it comes to energy policy, balancing the interests of two voting blocs whose goals are often at odds: blue-collar workers in the state’s fossil fuel industry and climate groups who want to see more money invested into renewable energy sources.
OIL AND fuel PRICES
Today, the average price for a gallon of regular gas in Pennsylvania is $3.95, according to the American Automobile Association. That’s slightly higher than the national average which currently sits at $3.85 per gallon.
On Wednesday, Biden announced the release of an additional 15 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve — a move the administration says will help bring costs down.
Oz, a former television host and retired heart surgeon, has been highly critical of the Biden administration’s energy policy throughout his campaign, accusing the president of “stifling domestic energy production.”
The Republican candidate has outlined his support for fast-tracking the completion of pipelines and called for new oil and gas leases on federal lands.
Biden continues to point the finger at Russian President Vladimir Putin and oil companies who he’s accused of putting profits over Americans’ best interests.
The president has maintained that supply chain disruptions and the war in Ukraine are the main drivers of high gas prices, which have fallen more than $1 per gallon since peaking in June.
Oz has pushed back on that assessment and says he would work to overturn Biden’s “heavy-handed regulations” and fight for energy independence.
It’s true that oil production has yet to return to its pre-pandemic level of roughly 13 million barrels a day, although it’s less clear who is directly responsible. The revised government forecast is that production will average 12.4 million barrels next year.
Like Biden, Fetterman has blamed high gas prices on “the greed of oil companies” but believes the country should “invest in more American energy.”
The Democratic candidate, who currently serves as the state’s lieutenant governor, also called for a suspension of the federal gas tax in March.
FRACKING AND NATURAL GAS
Fetterman has vowed to expedite the transition toward clean energy while also preserving “the union way of life” for natural gas workers in Pennsylvania.
That way of life will be top of mind for many voters in the Keystone State, which is the nation’s second-largest natural gas producer after Texas, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Meanwhile, Oz has been a vocal supporter of fracking and the state’s natural gas sector, which employs more than 72,000 workers.
Hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” is the process of injecting water, sand and chemicals into underground rock formations to free up oil or gas reserves. Environmental groups have criticized the process due to groundwater contamination concerns.
In an interview on NBC News last week, Fetterman said he also supports fracking in the state, “as long as it’s done environmentally sound” and “not contaminating our waterways.”
The Democratic candidate previously supported a temporary ban on fracking in 2016, but later reversed his position after new regulations were introduced.
In the same NBC interview, Fetterman called on Republicans and Democrats to stop weaponizing climate and energy priorities, pointing out that both are important.
“Energy security is critical but climate change is also very critical,” said Fetterman.
It remains to be seen whether that security can be achieved alongside a more aggressive green energy agenda.
Yost said he’s interested to see how the two candidates perform in their upcoming debate.
“Everything has the potential to be the difference maker,” he said. “I think it (energy policy) has played out in terms of gas prices so far but who knows if someone has a good way of talking about a policy that might be something that moves a group of voters.”
The latest polls show Fetterman maintaining a slight lead over Oz, although that margin has shrunk in recent weeks.
Voters will hear from both Fetterman and Oz on Oct. 25 during a debate exclusively nationally broadcast by NewsNation and aired on Nexstar’s local Pennsylvania stations. The debate is scheduled for 8-9 p.m. ET (7-8 p.m. CT).