Biden calls for 'transition' from oil, GOP sees opening

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the second and final presidential debate Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., with President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the second and final presidential debate Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., with President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Democrat Joe Biden's remark that he would “transition” away from oil in the U.S. in favor of renewable energy drew quick attention Thursday night from President Donald Trump, who saw it as a boon to his election chances in key states.

“I would transition away from the oil industry, yes," Biden said in the presidential debate's closing minutes under peppering from Trump. “The oil industry pollutes, significantly. It has to be replaced by renewable energy over time."

The Biden campaign's climate plan calls for the U.S. to have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. And he repeated his pledge to end federal subsidies for the oil and gas industry. However, Biden's plan does not call for a ban on climate-damaging fossil fuels, focusing instead on technologies that can capture pollution from oil and other sources.

Still, Trump seemed surprised and pleased by Biden’s comment, declaring it a “big statement,” and suggesting it would come with political blowback in oil-producing states that stand to lose jobs.

“Basically what he is saying is he is going to destroy the oil industry,” Trump said. “Will you remember that Texas? Pennsylvania? Oklahoma? Ohio?”

Trump won all four states in 2016, but Pennsylvania in particular is a pivotal swing state this cycle, with both candidates investing heavily. Ohio is also in play, and Democrats even see Texas as a longshot pickup on an expanded electoral map.

After the debate, Biden told reporters he would not “ban” fossil fuels or move away from them for “a long time.”

Tackling climate change means sharply cutting oil, gas and coal emissions, scientists say, and that means eliminating most burning of fossil fuels. Biden talks of a 30-year transition to a carbon-free economy, by encouraging more wind and solar power and more energy efficiency.