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Conditional support for 'fracking' offered 'Great opportunity' for Western New York

President Obama on Tuesday gave a qualified endorsement to a kind of natural gas drilling that many New Yorkers fear and a strong call for a revival of American manufacturing -- based in part on the auto industry's comeback and a crackdown on unfair Chinese trading practices.

In a State of the Union address that was unusual in its relevance to upstate New York, Obama also made reference to Rep. Louise M. Slaughter's effort to ban insider trading among members of Congress.

And not surprisingly, it was all music to the ears of Democrats -- and election-year rhetoric to Republicans.

"Many of the points hold great opportunity for Western New York," said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo. "Our region has a strong manufacturing base, is home to dozens of quality higher education institutions and our residents have a work ethic like none other."

And while Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, said he was pleased that the president had mentioned the potential of hydraulic fracturing to drill for shale gas -- which could be drilled in New York State if the government, like Pennsylvania, agreed to it -- Reed was disappointed in the rest of the speech.

"We didn't hear much about accountability," Reed said. "No specifics about encouraging private-sector job growth or why the president felt that the jobs which would have been created by the Keystone Pipeline weren't in the national interest."

While Obama recently rejected that oil pipeline from Canada into the Great Plains, his full-throated support of "fracking" in the speech came as a surprise.

"The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don't have to choose between our environment and our economy," Obama said.

While saying the development of shale gas could lead to the creation of 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade, Obama also said he would require gas companies drilling on public lands to disclose all the chemicals they use.

"America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk," he said.

And while touting shale gas as part of the nation's future economic success, Obama cited the auto industry -- always central to Buffalo's economy -- as a key example of how the economy is turning around for the better right now.

Noting that the entire U.S. auto industry has added nearly 160,000 jobs since the Obama administration provided financial support to keep it alive in 2009, the president said: "We bet on American workers. We bet on American ingenuity. And tonight, the American auto industry is back."

Other American industries can come back, too, with the right government support, he added.

First and foremost, he said, the government must eliminate tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas and create new tax incentives for manufacturers who create jobs in America.

"Send me those tax reforms, and I'll sign them right away," he said.

Obama has already signed new trade agreements with North Korea, Colombia and Panama, and he said those efforts soon would pay off in new manufacturing jobs as well. "Soon, there will be new cars on the streets of Seoul imported from Detroit, and Toledo, and Chicago," he said.

Stressing the importance of trade to boosting American manufacturing, Obama also announced the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit charged with investigating possible unfair trade practices in countries such as China.

"I will go anywhere in the world to open new markets for American products," Obama said. "And I will not stand by when our competitors don't play by the rules."

Already, Obama said, his administration has brought trade cases against China at nearly twice the rate of the George W. Bush administration. "Over a thousand Americans are working today because we stopped a surge in Chinese tires," he said.

While much of his speech focused on the economy, Obama also talked about restoring the nation's faith in its political system -- and said legislation proposed by Slaughter is key to making that happen.

"Send me a bill that bans insider trading among members of Congress, and I'll sign it tomorrow," Obama said.

Slaughter, D-Fairport, said she was "delighted" that Obama endorsed the Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge Act, which gained momentum last fall only to find House Republican leaders delaying its move to a floor vote.

"I've been working on the STOCK Act since 2006 and I say that if the president wants to sign the STOCK Act, let's get it through the House and send it to him!" she said.

Meanwhile, the New York State Republican Party dismissed the president's speech as mere campaign rhetoric.

"It is abundantly clear that this president has given up on governing and is focusing his efforts on riling up his base and raising the money necessary to run the most negative campaign in history against the eventual Republican nominee," the party said in a statement.

email: jzremski@buffnews.com