Joe Biden Marks the Beginning of the End for the Oil Industry

“The future lies in us being able to breathe.”

by Tim Donaghy

October 23, 2020

On the biggest stage of the presidential campaign, Biden is showing that he understands the central challenge of the climate crisis — the need to fundamentally and completely transition our economy away from dirty fossil energy that is poisoning our communities.

Vice President Joe Biden

Last night in the final presidential debate, Joe Biden said something huge about climate change and environmental justice.

When Donald Trump accused him of wanting to “close down the oil industry,” Biden didn’t back down. He said he wanted to “transition from the oil industry” and that it “has to be replaced by renewable energy over time.” We agree! Even more importantly, Biden connected this to the need to protect “fenceline” communities from “chemical plants and oil plants and refineries that pollute.”

Some pundits think this will hurt Biden with working class voters. This is simply not true. People all over the country want to live in safe, healthy, and resilient communities and they want good, union jobs that will provide economic security for their families for generations to come. The recent crash in the coal industry — in which CEOs ran away with million-dollar bonuses while skirting promises to their workers — shows just how unjust and chaotic an unmanaged transition would be. Biden is arguing that we need a managed phase out of polluting industries that leaves everyone better off.

On the biggest stage of the presidential campaign, Biden is showing that he understands the central challenge of the climate crisis — the need to fundamentally and completely transition our economy away from dirty fossil energy that is poisoning our communities. For too long, politicians have peddled the public relations lie that the oil and gas industry can continue unchanged — with maybe a few tweaks or adjustments around the edges. That stance may allow oil investors and executives to squeeze out a few more profitable years, but it is dangerous snake oil for workers and communities.

What Joe said is what scientists and economists have been saying for years: the end of oil is inevitable. The only question left is how fast can we put in place the policies to win the managed phaseout that workers, communities and the climate truly need.

Biden’s response shows that he understands that “normal was a crisis” and the only way forward is to build a new economy that puts the needs of people first, not polluters.

From Words to Actions

Although Joe Biden didn’t land at the very top of our 2020 Presidential Scorecard, his climate plan is still the “most ambitious and far-reaching climate platform of any presidential nominee for a major party in history.” Last night, Joe reiterated some of the strong policies in that plan.

Biden again pledged to end the billions of dollars in federal subsidies that go to support fossil fuel production. If he’s elected president, Greenpeace will hold him and the next Congress accountable to this commitment. It is unconscionable that the United States is still handing out $20 billion in direct subsidies and allowing over $600 billion in indirect subsidies to coal, oil, and gas companies every year. Redirecting those public funds would be a down payment on the investments we need to make to build a new economy.

While Biden didn’t call for a full ban on fracking, he did reiterate his opposition to fracking and oil development on federal lands. Biden’s climate plan calls for an end to new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters. Greenpeace will push Biden to keep this promise and sign an Executive Order on day one ending new fossil fuel leases on public lands and waters, while also supporting fossil fuel workers and communities during the transition.

Biden also showed he understands, on a personal level, the burdens of pollution on low-income and communities of color who live downwind and downstream from fossil fuel facilities:

“I used to live near that when I was growing up in Claymont, Delaware and there are more oil refineries in Marcus Hook and the Delaware River than there is any place, including in Houston at the time. When my mom [got] in the car and when there [was the] first frost to drive me to school, turning the windshield wiper [on], there’d be an oil slick on the window. That’s why so many people in my state were dying and getting cancer. The fact is those frontline communities, it’s not a matter of what you’re paying them. It matters how you keep them safe.

Of course, Biden’s climate plan isn’t perfect. Last night he again mentioned carbon capture as a means of reducing carbon emissions. This is a risky false solution that could serve to prop up the fossil fuel industry — and leave communities at risk — rather than phase it out. If Biden is elected, our movement will have to hold the line against false solutions and keep Biden focused on doing what science and justice demand.

Build Back Better

The pandemic has laid bare the ugly legacy of systemic racism in America, the weakness of our healthcare system, and the lunacy of an energy system built on pollution. We won’t go back to how things were, and together we can push for a Just Recovery that shows the way to a truly justice-centered and renewable economy. As Joe Biden said last night, “The future lies in us being able to breathe.”

We know that the upcoming election will be critical to making this future a reality. Join Greenpeace’s 2020 Volunteer Team today!

Tim Donaghy

By Tim Donaghy

Tim Donaghy is a Senior Research Specialist with Greenpeace USA. He writes frequently about climate change, offshore oil drilling, energy production, and the Arctic.

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