WASHINGTON — Republicans in oil-thick Texas are seeking to tar their Democratic rivals over former Vice President Joe Biden’s remark in Thursday night’s White House debate that he would “transition from the oil industry.”
“The oil industry pollutes, significantly,” the Democratic presidential contender said. “It has to be replaced by renewable energy over time.”
While Biden later sought to clarify that his administration was “not going to get rid of fossil fuels” — and would instead “get rid of subsidies for fossil fuels” — President Donald Trump seized on the comment as evidence that Biden would “destroy the oil industry.”
“Will you remember that, Texas?” the Republican said. “Will you remember that, Pennsylvania? Oklahoma? Ohio?”
The president’s apparent glee reflects the fact that public polling shows Trump in a tight race in Texas, raising the prospect that he could be the first Republican presidential candidate to lose the Lone Star State since President Gerald Ford did so in 1976.
That dynamic extends down-ballot, where Texas Republicans were eager to use Biden’s words to prime the political pump in a state that’s the heart of America’s energy industry.
Sen. John Cornyn’s campaign, for example, bashed his Democratic challenger, MJ Hegar, over Biden’s remarks, with the Republican’s spokeswoman, Krista Piferrer, saying that “Democrats are coming hard for Texas’ oil and gas industry.”
“A Biden-Hegar team in Washington would kill hundreds of thousands of jobs in our state and cause economic catastrophe,” she said, noting that Hegar recently campaigned in Texas with Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, a co-author of the Green New Deal.
Joe Biden said during tonight’s debate that he would transition away from the oil industry in an effort to curb pollution — a statement that led President Donald Trump to raise his eyebrows in surprise.
— POLITICO (@politico) October 23, 2020
Republican Genevieve Collins took the same approach against freshman Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, demanding that the incumbent “speak out against his own party for once.”
“Any plan to ‘transition’ away from oil must be called out for what it is: a job killer for the state of Texas and destructive to the North Texas economy,” she said, noting that some other freshman Democrats were quick to distance themselves from Biden’s remarks.
Even Texas conservatives not up for re-election got in on the action.
“Biden wants to ‘transition’ away from the oil industry,” Gov. Greg Abbott wrote on Twitter. “He just killed paychecks earned by hardworking families in Texas. Joe just wants to transition away from Texas.”
Hegar spokeswoman Amanda Sherman, asked if Hegar agreed with Biden’s comments, said Cornyn “knows damn well that he has no record to run on, so he is once again spreading fear and empty rhetoric.”
“MJ has been all over Texas talking with oil and gas workers who know the world is trending toward renewable energy,” she said. “They want to ensure that Texas leads in that next chapter, which is why she is fighting like hell to protect Texas’ place as the nation’s leader in the energy industry.”
Allred, also asked if he agreed with Biden’s comments, said the former vice president was “clear that he would end subsidies for the oil industry that it doesn’t need.”
“I agree with everyone from Vice President Biden to Shell and ExxonMobil, who all say we have a tremendous opportunity in clean and renewable energy,” he said. “Investing in wind, solar and carbon capture technologies will create thousands of good-paying Texas jobs and help us combat the urgent threat of climate change.”
Those two Democrats, like many others in Texas, have generally walked a careful line on energy policy, stressing the need to take real action to combat climate change while opposing more contentious ideas like banning fracking or enacting the expansive Green New Deal.
Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, said, “Republicans have failed our energy sector for years.”
“Thanks to Republican leadership in this state and in this country, oil reached below zero dollars a barrel and energy companies like Exxon have had to go through mass layoffs and dropping out of the Dow,” he said. “The job killers in Texas are Donald Trump and Greg Abbott.”
So what to make of the potential impact of Biden’s remarks, which came near the end of a 90-minute debate less than two weeks out from an election in which tens of millions of Americans have already voted? It’s hard to say.
The oil and gas industry was not thrilled.
“We aren’t going anywhere,” American Petroleum Institute president Mike Sommers said, though another API official put out a news release that said “neither candidate” put forth realistic solutions to address the threat of climate change.
The environmental community cheered on the former vice president.
Biden has “never wasted the American people’s time debating the existence of an existential crisis that is ruining families and communities across the country,” the Sierra Club’s Ariel Hayes said, calling Biden’s climate plan the “boldest ever put forward by a presidential nominee.”
But even though Texas Republicans zeroed in on Biden’s comments as a late-breaking twist – with former Texas Gov. Rick Perry accusing Biden of “effectively killing an estimated 11 million jobs” – the former vice president’s remarks were mostly in line with his prior stances.
Consider the whole exchange between Trump and Biden.
“Would you close down the oil industry?” Trump asked.
Biden responded, “I would transition from the oil industry, yes.”
Trump interjected, “That’s a big statement.”
“It is a big statement,” Biden said. “Because the oil industry pollutes, significantly. … Because it has to be replaced by renewable energy over time. Over time. And I’d stop giving to the oil industry — I’d stop giving them federal subsidies.”
Amid cross talk, Trump accused Biden of seeking to “destroy the oil industry.”
“He takes everything out of context,” Biden responded. “But the point is, look, we have to move toward a net zero emissions. The first place to do that by the year 2025 is in energy production. By 2050, totally.”
Compare that to Biden’s platform.
Biden’s climate plan, as The Associated Press noted, calls for the U.S. to have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The former vice president has also repeatedly pledged to end federal subsidies for the oil and gas industry.
And while Biden has made confusing and contradictory remarks about fracking over the course of the White House campaign, his climate plan has never advocated for banning the practice, instead pushing only to outlaw new fracking on public lands.
“We’re not getting rid of fossil fuels for a long time,” he said after the debate.