Biden must clarify his stance on energy for swing voters

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The presidential debate will be the first major opportunity of the election season for the candidates to make their case to voters in swing states. To win those pivotal votes, former Vice President Joe Biden will need to clarify his stance on energy production. So far, he has left voters confused about his stance on fossil fuels, a source of energy that matters deeply in oil- and gas-producing swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. 

But oil and gas production is important even to states that don’t have fracking. Florida, the largest swing state with 29 electoral votes, cares quite a bit, too.

President Trump has made clear his support for domestic oil and gas production. The fracking revolution and robust fossil fuel industry was given life under President Obama and supported by President Trump, but right now no one knows where Biden stands. He should take the opportunity at Tuesday’s debate to make his position clear, because polls show it matters to voters, even those who live thousands of miles away from oil or gas wells. Voters will want Biden to elaborate on whether he seeks to end or encourage fossil fuel production in the United States.                           

Americans care about the environment, but they also care about energy security and the economy. Fracking has contributed more than $37 billion to Ohio’s economy in just a single year and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that Pennsylvania would lose $261 billion in gross domestic product by 2025 if all fracking were banned. Even voters in non-producing states know they need gasoline and natural gas to continue the modern American way of life. For example, in 2018, 70 percent of electricity in Florida was produced from natural gas. Americans do not want to depend on foreign nations — often authoritarian regimes — for access to energy. 

A recent survey by the American Petroleum Institute (API) showed that access to energy resources is a crucial issue for the most important swing state, Florida. According to the survey, “7 in 10 Florida voters say they get value from natural gas and oil” and 65 percent of Florida voters (including 52 percent of Democrats) are more likely to “vote for a candidate who supports access to oil and gas produced in the U.S.” In other words, even though Florida produces almost no fuel itself, Floridians do not want to disrupt American production.

Despite the strong opinions of voters, Biden is particularly opaque on a future for the fracking industry if he becomes president. Speaking recently to an audience in western Pennsylvania, Biden said he would not ban fracking. However, at other times he has indicated that he wants to ban or severely curtail fracking and has told voters, “I guarantee you that we’re going to end fossil fuels.” Last year, about 63 percent of American oil production and 75 percent of American natural gas production came from fracking. This production has reduced the cost of energy for Americans over the past five years. 

On top of his verbal contradictions, Biden has constructed a campaign team that raises more questions about his views and intentions on fossil fuel production and use. For example, Biden’s pick for vice president, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), has denounced fracking unequivocally, and said in September 2019, “There’s no question, I’m in favor of banning fracking.” She is a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal resolution, intended to end the use of fossil fuels. If Biden intends to protect America’s fossil fuel industry, his team appears to have other ideas.

It is time for Biden to share a clear, consistent vision for America’s future energy needs. Voters want this — not just in Pennsylvania and Ohio, but in other swing states as well. If Biden wants to compete in Florida and across the country, he should assure voters that America’s fossil fuel production would continue under a Biden presidency and that the U.S. no longer will rely on fuel from authoritarian regimes. He should convince voters that our way of life will not degrade, and our economy will not suffer because of anti-energy policies. The numbers show that is what swing voters want. 

Ellen R. Wald, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center and the president of Transversal Consulting, a global energy and geopolitics consultancy. She is the author of “Saudi, Inc.,” a history of Aramco and how the Saudi royal family controls this multitrillion-dollar enterprise.  

Tags Donald Trump Energy Fossil fuel Hydraulic fracturing Joe Biden Joe Biden 2020 presidential campaign Natural gas

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