U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said Thursday his promise to gradually shift the United States from a reliance on fossil fuels doesn’t mean he will impose an outright ban, after addressing the subject at his final debate with President Donald Trump.
Trump seized on Biden’s comments during the debate where the former vice president said the U.S. needs “other industries to transition to get to ultimately a complete zero emissions by 2025.”
“I would transition from the oil industry, yes,” Biden said.
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Trump visibly reacted to Biden’s comments in real time, saying, “That’s a big statement” before claiming it amounted to a ban on oil and gas.
“He is going to destroy the oil industry,” Trump said. “Will you remember that Texas? Will you remember that Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Ohio?”
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Boarding his plane to fly back to his home in Delaware after the debate, Biden told reporters, “Eventually we’re going to have to go to all (alternative energy). But we’re not going to ban fossil fuels.”
“We’ll get rid of the subsidies of fossil fuels, but we’re not getting rid of fossil fuels for a very long time,” he said. “Besides, a lot more jobs are going to be created in other alternatives.”
In a call with reporters Thursday night, deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield clarified that Biden was talking about eliminating oil subsidies when he said he would “transition away from the oil industry.”
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Biden said during the debate that he would shift federal subsidies away from the oil and gas industry and towards solar and wind power, both of which Trump has criticized and mocked during his time in office and as a presidential candidate in 2015 and 2016.
Many of the states Trump named are considered must-wins for both candidates if they want to seize the White House on Nov. 3, and all of their economies rely heavily on the energy industry.
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Democrats are focusing some of their most concerted efforts onto Texas, long a Republican stronghold that has the potential to flip due to changing demographics.
Republicans, including former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who served as energy secretary under Trump, immediately pounced, saying Biden would kill millions of jobs.
The American Petroleum Institute, a trade association representing the oil and gas industry, said in a statement that restricting oil and gas production would “jeopardize America’s economic recovery,” increase energy costs, eliminate jobs and shift energy production oversees.
Kendra Horn, a Democratic U.S. representative from Oklahoma seeking re-election, distanced herself from Biden, saying on Twitter that oil and gas policy is “one of the places Biden and I disagree.”
Trump also accused Biden of planning to ban hydraulic fracturing, a process of extracting natural gas from shale that is opposed by many environmentalists. Biden said he would ban fracking on federal land only.
Fracking is an issue in western Pennsylvania, a crucial battleground state in the election.
The president mocked a part of Biden’s climate plan that called for more efficient buildings, saying Biden would “knock down buildings and build new buildings with little tiny small windows.”
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Environmentalists have complained for years that presidential candidates’ views on climate change have not been emphasized enough in presidential debates.
But heat waves and wildfires in the Western United States and uncommonly powerful storms battering other parts of the country have put climate issues in the spotlight.
Polling has shown that the economy and health care have overtaken the environment as voters’ chief concerns heading into the 2020 election, however, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
—With files from the Associated Press and Reuters
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