Energy & Environment

Press Plays Defense after Biden Campaign Walks Back Oil Industry Comments

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden talks to reporters while leaving, following the final 2020 U.S. presidential campaign debate, at Nashville International Airport in Nashville, Tennessee, October 22, 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Joe Biden’s public commitment to “transition from the oil industry” in Thursday night’s debate forced a subsequent walk-back from his own campaign, a move largely ignored by the media, which covered the comments as yet another “conservatives pounced” moment.

Late in the 96-minute debate, Biden not only admitted that he wanted to leave oil behind, but also doubled down when pressed on it by President Trump.

When Trump asked the former vice president, “would you close down the oil industry?” Biden didn’t bat an eye. “By the way, I would transition from the oil industry, yes.”

“Oh, that’s a big statement,” Trump exclaimed.

“I will transition. It is a big statement,” Biden responded.

“Why would you do that?” debate moderator Kristen Welker interjected.

Biden kept going. “Because the oil industry pollutes, significantly,” he explained. “. . . It has to be replaced by renewable energy over time.”

He then tried to pivot. “And I’d stop giving, to the oil industry, I’d stop giving them federal subsidies,” Biden said, then attacking Trump. “He won’t give federal subsidies to solar and wind, why are we giving it to oil industry.”

“We actually do give it to solar and wind,” Trump countered — a true statement.

Biden’s willingness to admit he was making “a big statement” and his doubling down to Welker that “the oil industry pollutes, significantly” forced a cleanup from the Biden team, which tried to say Biden was only speaking about oil subsidies rather than the broader transition he was clearly describing.

“We’re not going to get rid of fossil fuels,” Biden later told reporters. “We’re going to get rid of subsidies for fossil fuels.”

The “clarification” was apparently enough for the press to run full-throttle with — even as vulnerable House Democrats took Biden’s words seriously.

Politico, which unironically used “Conservatives pounce” in the headline, explained that “the former vice president said he would stop giving the industry federal subsidies, to the consternation of President Donald Trump and his supporters.”

“President Donald Trump pounced” on Biden’s comments, TIME’s Justin Worland stated in his lede, before explaining that actually, Biden is pretty clear in his demands.

“Nearly 80% of U.S. energy-related emissions came from oil and gas last year. The math is unavoidable: the industry will need to evolve dramatically, or disappear,” Worland wrote.

The Associated Press, however, took a different approach, arguing that Joe Biden climate proposals simply want “the U.S. to have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.”

“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,” Kathleen Ronayne and Ellen Knickmeyer reported in a piece titled “Biden calls for ‘transition’ from oil, GOP sees opening.”

Apparently lost on the AP: In the same sentence that he calls for net-zero emissions, Biden states that the “U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy” by 2050.

“Getting to a 100% clean energy economy is not only an obligation, it’s an opportunity,” the plan explains.

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