With one sentence, President Donald Trump placed Pittsburgh at the center of a post-Paris climate battle.
“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” he said during his Thursday Rose Garden speech announcing that he would withdraw the US from the Paris climate deal, which aims to prevent global warming. Trump later mentioned Detroit, Youngstown, Ohio, and Pittsburgh as cities he was putting “before Paris, France” by ditching the agreement that nearly every country in the world has signed on to.
It was a clear reference to Pittsburgh’s past as a steel and industrial titan, an image that has given way over the past 30 years to its current status as a growing healthcare and tech hub located in the Rust Belt.
Trump was making a pitch familiar to many who followed his presidential campaign, claiming that by pulling out of Paris, cities such as Pittsburgh would see a boon of coal, energy, and factory jobs — the kind of jobs that were synonymous with Pittsburgh when its streets looked like this:
Many close to the city didn’t see things quite the same way as Trump, including Pittsburgh’s mayor, Bill Peduto.
“I started getting a lot of questions about his reference to the city of Pittsburgh,” Peduto, a Democrat, said on CNN. “The city of Pittsburgh voted for [Democratic presidential nominee] Hillary Clinton with nearly 80% of the vote. He may be talking about all of Western Pennsylvania, but it’s a far cry from being Pittsburgh.”
“Pittsburgh in the last 30 years has come back from a depression,” he added, noting the mass exodus of coal and steel jobs in the 1970s, which led to a “very, very bad economy” with high unemployment. “But at the same time, we didn’t invest in our past, we invested in our future. We are the example of what the Paris Agreement could mean for jobs and the economy in the United States. And for him to use Pittsburgh as an example, I can only say it was a far stretch at best.”
Peduto issued an executive order on Friday signifying that the city would still follow the Paris Agreement. Peduto said in a statement that “for decades” the city “has been rebuilding its economy based on hopes for our people and our future, not on outdated fantasies about our past.”
Even over the course of the past decade, Pittsburgh has been able to replace manufacturing job losses with significant growth in the healthcare and tech sectors.
That growth has led to the metro area’s unemployment rate falling to pre-financial crisis levels.
And as The Washington Post noted, Pittsburgh had more people working in renewable energy fields in 2016 than it did in iron and steel manufacturing or the coal industry.
“Trump has no clue re Pittsburgh,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, tweeted. “It transformed itself by cleaning its environment. It went from old industrial city to high tech Mecca!”
But Trump’s message did resonate with some voters in the area. Although Clinton did overwhelmingly win within city limits and in Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh is located, Trump beat her in the seven-county Pittsburgh metro area by nearly 60,000 votes. If Clinton had defeated Trump by 60,000 votes in the metro area, she would have carried Pennsylvania.
To help rally supporters around Trump’s “Pittsburgh” speech line, Trump’s campaign promoted the Virginia Republican Party’s “Pittsburgh not Paris” event supporting the president’s move to withdraw from the Paris pact.
John Fetterman, the Democratic mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, a town 20 minutes east of Pittsburgh, summed up the differences in how Trump’s “Pittsburgh, not Paris” line was received by different groups.
“You/Me: Climate terrorist and international embarrassment,” the mayor, who ran for Senate in 2016, tweeted of Trump. “Guy in a BuyHere/PayHere pickup, Jack+Diane Town, USA: He stuck up for me.”