Biden Vows Transition Away From Fossil Fuels In Final Debate

Law360 (October 23, 2020, 12:06 AM EDT) -- Joe Biden said during the final presidential debate Thursday he intends to "transition" the country away from the oil industry, as President Donald Trump challenged him to say whether he'd close the industry down.

In a contentious back-and-forth about the viability of renewable energy, Trump described moving away from fossil fuels as a job-killing threat to the American economy, while Biden said it's necessary to fulfill the nation's responsibility to address climate change.

"The oil industry pollutes significantly," Biden said. "It has to be replaced by renewable energy."

Like they did in their first debate, Trump and Biden on Thursday laid out starkly different visions for how the nation should respond to the threats posed by climate change, particularly with regard to the future of the fossil fuel economy. They also tackled questions on environmental justice, regulations and how U.S. climate policies should relate to those of other countries.

Biden touted a plan for a "clean energy revolution" that he said would create millions of jobs, but was careful to highlight its transitional nature. He reiterated his statement that he has no plans to ban fracking except for on federal lands, for instance, and said his goal is to move toward a net zero emissions from energy production by 2035 and "totally" by 2050.

He also said he'd stop giving federal subsidies to the oil industry.

For his part, Trump defended the fossil fuel industry, noted that the U.S. is energy independent and dismissed renewable sources of energy like wind and solar.

"Wind ... it's extremely expensive. Kills all the birds. It's very intermittent. It's got a lot of problems," Trump said. "Solar, I love solar, but solar doesn't quite have it yet. It's not powerful yet to really run our big, beautiful factories that we need to compete with the world."

And he said getting rid of the oil industry would "kill the economy." He said that if the U.S. abandons its fossil fuel industry to pursue renewables, the country will lose a competitive advantage to countries like China, Russia and India, which he characterized as "filthy" when compared to the U.S. in terms of environmental quality. 

Trump also said Biden's plan would cost U.S. families thousands of dollars.

During the debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News said to Trump that people of color are more likely to live near oil refineries and chemical plants in Texas, and that they've complained of pollution making them sick. She then asked him to explain why those families should vote for him after his administration has rolled back regulations on emissions from those facilities.

"The families that we're talking about are employed heavily and they are making a lot of money, more money than they've ever made," he responded.

Biden retorted the proper solution is to impose restrictions on the facilities' pollution.

And in discussing other elements of his plan to combat climate change, Biden said the government would retrofit 4 million existing buildings and 2 million existing homes to make them more energy-efficient. Doing so would would eliminate the demand for "hundreds of millions" of barrels of oil and also create "a significant number of jobs," he said.

In a campaign where the candidates are divided by wide distances on most topics, climate change is one of the biggest gulfs. Trump has spent his first term rolling back Obama-era regulations that were designed to chip away at U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, from a plan to reduce carbon dioxide pollution from power plants and a rule to clean up auto exhaust fumes to limits on methane venting and flaring.

At the debate on Thursday, he reiterated his intention to leave the Paris Climate Accord and said that all the past administration's efforts to address climate change came at too great a cost to U.S. businesses.

Biden, on the other hand, has vowed to stay in the climate pact, which was finalized under President Barack Obama, and said he will work to incentivize technology that reduces the emissions that contribute to climate change.

--Additional reporting by Dorothy Atkins and Matthew Santoni. Editing by Michael Watanabe.

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