President Donald Trump attacked former Vice President Joe Biden during Thursday night’s debate for promising to “transition from the oil industry” as part of his plan to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Biden argued that the oil industry, which he said “pollutes significantly,” should no longer receive federal subsidies and needs to be replaced by renewable energy “over time.”
“Basically what he’s saying is he is going to destroy the oil industry,” Trump interjected.
The president then warned voters in states with large fossil fuel industries that Biden is coming for their jobs.
“Will you remember that Texas? Will you remember that Pennsylvania? Oklahoma? Ohio?”
Notably, Trump won all four of these states in 2016, but polling shows Biden is narrowing the gap in Texas and Ohio and outperforming Trump in Pennsylvania.
Biden may have regretted his wording, as he clarified his position after the debate, telling reporters he meant he would wean the oil industry off of federal subsidies, but not immediately eliminate fossil fuels.
“We’re not getting rid of fossil fuels,” Biden said. “We’re getting rid of the subsidies for fossil fuels, but we’re not getting rid of fossil fuels for a long time.”
But the idea that Democrats, including Biden, want to eventually fully replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources is nothing new.
A slew of recent polling shows that Americans are increasingly concerned about climate change, think Trump hasn’t done enough to address the issue, and want more drastic action to be taken going forward. In an October Pew poll, 68% of Americans said climate change will play a very or somewhat important role in determining who they’ll vote for in the upcoming election.
Republicans were quick to target Biden over his comments on fossil fuels. Texas Republicans like Gov. Greg Abbott, former Gov. Rick Perry, and Sen. Ted Cruz sought to weaponize the remarks and warned Biden’s policies would eliminate fossil fuel jobs.
“Hey Texas and Pennsylvania, @JoeBiden just admitted he would transition from the oil industry, effectively killing an estimated 11 million jobs,” Rick Perry, Trump’s former Secretary of Energy and the former GOP governor of Texas, .
Some vulnerable Democrats also publicly distanced themselves from Biden’s position.
“I disagree with VP Biden’s statement tonight,” Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, who represents a rural swing district in New Mexico, on Thursday night. “Energy is part of the backbone of New Mexico’s economy. We need to work together to promote responsible energy production and stop climate change, not demonize a single industry.”
Kendra Horn, a Democratic candidate for the House in Oklahoma, that Democrats “must stand up for our oil and gas industry.”
“We need an all-of-the-above energy approach that’s consumer friendly, values energy independence, and protects OK jobs,” she said.
Trump has long denied the threat of climate change, even calling it a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese, and his administration has aggressively rolled back regulations and other policy designed to protect the environment and slow climate change.
The Trump administration had reversed or eliminated at least 70 environmental regulations and 30 additional policy reversals were in progress as of mid-July, a New York Times report found.
Biden, who calls climate change an “existential threat,” says he doesn’t support the Green New Deal — a sweeping progressive bill spearheaded by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — but his campaign website refers to the proposal as a “crucial framework.”
“We’re told by all the leading scientists in the world we don’t have much time,” Biden said on Thursday. “We’re going to pass the point of no return within the next eight to 10 years. Four more years of this man … will put us in a position where we’ll be in real trouble.”
Trump and his allies have aggressively attacked the Green New Deal, and Trump said Ocasio-Cortez and three other freshman congresswomen of color who support the proposal “know nothing about the climate” during Thursday’s debate.