Oct 23, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Biden looks to stem oil "transition" furor amid GOP attacks

Joe Biden
Former Vice President Joe Biden. ANGELA WEISS / Getty Images

Joe Biden's campaign is looking to blunt attacks in response to his comments in Thursday night's debate about a "transition from the oil industry," as Republicans look to make the remarks a liability in the closing days of the race.

Driving the news: Biden campaign spokesperson Bill Russo, in comments circulated to reporters Friday afternoon, said the former VP "would not get rid of fossil fuels," but wants to end subsidies.

What they're saying: "And part of his strategy to transition to net-zero emissions is to make significant investments in carbon capture and sequestration," Russo said, arguing that Biden's climate plans would serve as a job-creator.

  • Republican National Committee spokesperson Steve Guest said Biden issued a "crystal clear threat" with his "promise to eliminate" the industry, per the New York Times. "No amount of spin or clean up from Biden or his team can rectify this error," he said.

Why it matters: It's the latest of several statements from campaign officials and Biden himself about exchanges with President Trump over fossil fuel industries that operate across multiple swing states.

  • The comments suggests the Biden campaign is concerned about political fallout from the back-and-forth and feels the need to quickly attempt to parry GOP attacks.

Where it stands: Republican political operatives and lawmakers have pounced in response to the comments, claiming they show that Biden would kill jobs.

  • Even during the debate, Trump responded that Biden will "destroy the oil industry," adding: “Will you remember that, Texas? Will you remember that, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma? Ohio?"
  • Three of those are very competitive this cycle.
  • Pennsylvania is the nation's second-largest natural gas producer. Texas leads the U.S. in oil and natural gas output, while Ohio produces lots of gas too.

Catch up quick: Biden last night said: "I would transition from the oil industry" because it "pollutes significantly." He added that it "has to be replaced by renewable energy over time," and that if elected he'd look to end subsidies.

  • The remarks came in response to Trump's claim that Biden would look to "close down the oil industry."

What we don't know: Whether the debate commentary may alter votes in swing states.

  • "That interchange might not persuade many voters outside the oil patch, but we would not be surprised if groups affiliated with the Trump campaign were to put it on heavy rotation in the two major producer states that are also swing states in this year’s election, Pennsylvania and Texas," research firm ClearView Energy Partners said in a note.
  • Polling in Pennsylvania has shown split opinions on fracking, the oil-and-gas extraction technique that has enabled the U.S. production boom over the last decade-plus.

The big picture: Biden's climate and energy plan calls for achieving 100% carbon-free power generation by 2035, which would squeeze out natural gas unless carbon-trapping tech becomes commercially competitive.

  • His plan — which aims for net-zero U.S. emissions by 2050 — also calls for policies that would affect oil demand and production, including tougher vehicle standards and aggressive deployment of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
  • The proposal aims to thwart new oil-and-gas development on federal lands and waters, but does not call for a nationwide fracking ban.

Go deeper: Poll shows strong backing for Biden's $2 trillion climate plan

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