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Press: Joe Biden drops bomb on oil industry

In case you missed it, history was made in last week’s second and final presidential debate. On several levels. For the first time ever, because Trump behaved so badly in the first debate, the candidates’ mikes were muted for the first two minutes on every issue; for the first time ever, climate change was featured as a major debate point; and, for the first time ever, a major party candidate pledged — not only to tax and end subsidies to one of America’s leading industries, but to preside over its demise: perhaps the boldest promise made by any presidential candidate ever.

Ironically, the significance of that final historic moment, which came late in the debate, was missed by almost everybody — except Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSt. Louis lawyer who pointed gun at Black Lives Matter protesters considering Senate run Chauvin found guilty as nation exhales US says Iran negotiations are 'positive' MORE. Asked about his plan to combat climate change, Biden defiantly pledged: “I would transition away from the oil industry, yes. The oil industry pollutes, significantly. It has to be replaced by renewable energy over time. Over time.”

Donald Trump, sensing a possible Biden faux-pas, immediately pounced: “Oh, that’s a big statement. He’s going to destroy the oil industry. Will you remember that, Texas? Will you remember that, Pennsylvania?” And he’s continued to pound Biden on that point, ever since, especially on repeated visits to oil and vote-rich Pennsylvania.

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But here’s the funny part: if Trump thinks Biden’s promise to oversee the end of the oil industry is going to suddenly change the momentum of the 2020 campaign and hurt Biden’s standing in the polls, he’s sadly mistaken. For one thing, it’s nothing Biden hasn’t said before. Biden’s climate platform, in fact, calls for the U.S. to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. There’s only one way to meet that goal. Since 80 percent of energy-related emissions came from oil and gas last year, the industry will have to disappear. Again, over time.

It’s also not something the majority of voters are going to rise up in arms against, because most of them support it. According to a Spring 2020 survey by Pew Research, the vast majority of Americans, including 54 percent of self-described conservative Republicans, favor the development of alternative energy sources over the expanded production of fossil fuels.

Finally, Biden’s plan to phase out fossil fuels is nothing new. The evidence is overwhelming: America’s already moving away from fossil fuels. Since the beginning of the year, the number of operating oil and gas rigs has dropped from nearly 800 to just 250. The number of people employed in oil and gas extraction has dropped from over 200,000 in 2014 to around 155,000 today. Even in Pennsylvania, according to the Washington Post, 74,000 people have jobs linked to clean energy, while only 23,000 still have petroleum-based jobs. By 2035, every new car and truck sold in California will have to be a net-zero emission vehicle.

The fact is, the oil industry is on its way out, and even many industry leaders admit it. It’s no longer a question of whether, but of when it will disappear. Five of the six largest U.S. banks have pledged to stop funding new drilling in Alaska. And even the giant oil company BP has embraced the goal of ending fossil fuel-produced energy by 2050.

So, in the end, Biden’s pledge to phase out the oil industry is not as radical as it sounds. But an analysis of it does tell us two things. One, that Trump is clueless about today’s changing energy economy. Two, that a Biden presidency will be a lot bolder and a lot more FDR-like than we might have expected.

Press is host of “The Bill Press Pod.” He is author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.”