EnergyIssuesJoe Biden Toes Democrat Fault Lines in Energy Plan, Hot Button Issue in Texas

Here’s a look at how Vice President Joe Biden’s energy plan, a mix of progressive and more moderate proposals, could impact Texas.
August 25, 2020
Last week, the Democratic Party officially chose former Vice President Joe Biden as its 2020 presidential nominee. Biden was tailored as the relative moderate in a party that is increasingly lurching leftward.

He successfully fended off Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the primary and has since outlined a policy platform on everything from healthcare, education, and immigration.

But one segment of particular interest in Texas is his energy policy.

Texas is the energy capital of the country, spearheading not only its oil and gas industry but also its renewable sector. It leads all U.S. states in oil, natural gas, wind, and solar production.

To try and keep together his broad electoral coalition containing hardcore Green New Deal progressives in population centers and Trump-adjacent independents in the Midwest, Biden’s energy policy contains aspects of both left-wing and moderate priorities.

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One of the most impactful practices on Texas and the world’s ability to provide cheap, plentiful, reliable energy to consumers is hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The technique consists of pumping a solution of chemicals, sand, and water into shale rock formations that were previously unreachable by traditional straight-well drilling.

The fracking revolution which began in Texas in the late 1990s jumpstarted a stagnating energy industry and pushed the Lone Star State to global energy prominence.

Biden was accused by opposing campaigns of wanting to ban fracking after a debate. He was asked if there would be “any place for fossil fuels, including coal and fracking, in a Biden administration?”

He responded with a broken and vague response, stating, “No, we would — we would work it out.”

 The campaign clarified later that he does not intend to outright ban fracking. However, his plan does include prohibiting the approval of new drilling permits on federal land. This would impact the State of Alaska the most which encompasses over 60 percent of all federal land.

Texas, however, contains about 3 million acres of federally-owned land — less than two percent of the state’s acreage. Most of that federal land is located in the eastern part of the state or in Big Bend National Park. That total also includes army bases such as Fort Hood.

However, the Bureau of Land Management does lease portions of its Texas holdings, both on and offshore, to drillers — totaling 582 leases on nearly 350,000 acres in 2019. 

Onshore leases are typically issued for 10 years and those offshore for between five and 10 years. If leases are included in the prospective ban brand new ones would outlast two terms of a Biden presidency, but ones with upcoming expirations would be prohibited from renewal or resale.

A cause du jour of the Democratic Party is becoming “carbon neutral,” the term for removing the same amount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere that is put into it. This is a central tenant to the Green New Deal which sets the point-of-no-return date to 2030. Biden, however, moved that back two decades to 2050 in his platform — but he wants to retrofit just the energy grid to carbon-neutral by 2035.

Biden does break with the Green New Deal hardliners by including nuclear energy development in his plan, something that was left entirely out of the progressive wing’s original guiding environmental document.

Nuclear is a carbon neutral source but only accounts for nine percent of the state’s grid electricity.

Biden acknowledges he will need Congress to pass a law for this plan to meet his goal.

It is estimated retrofitting the U.S. to become carbon neutral would cost over $1 trillion per year. That is about 20 percent of the 2019 federal spending. To reach carbon neutral, the nation’s entire transportation system would likely have to be overhauled.

Part of Biden’s plan is to provide every city with 100,000 or more inhabitants with a zero-emissions public transit system. Such a plan would entail rail of some fashion, as many large cities have or are trying to construct.

For example, the City of Austin recently approved a $7 billion light rail and busing overhaul. Light rail costs about $140 million per mile, with some estimates reaching well above $200 million. And then there’s high-speed rail that would connect large cities, one of which is planned in Texas to connect Dallas to Houston and is estimated to cost $10 billion.

Through initiatives like this, Biden aims to create 10 million jobs revamping the nation’s infrastructure. Whether it’s state-and-local or federal government financed, taxpayers will foot the bill for whatever broad infrastructure renovation is implemented.

He also aims to create 250,000 jobs plugging abandoned oil and natural gas wells. Due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, producers have abandoned more and more wells that are not fiscally efficient to maintain. The State of Texas, led by the Railroad Commission, manages the effort to plug unused wells.

So far this year, the state has plugged 1,277 wells with over 1,500 remaining left abandoned.

The oil and gas industry, according to the Texas Oil and Gas Association’s annual report, directly employs 428,000 Texans. That was, however, before the pandemic which caused the industry to shed tens of thousands of jobs.

On the regulatory front, Biden intends to reimplement the strict emissions standards, especially on methane, that the Trump administration recently rolled back. Smaller Texas producers cheered this decision, claiming the regulations were burdensome and unnecessary while magnates like ExxonMobil advocated to keep the regulations.

According to the Energy Information Administration, Texas is number one in the country for carbon dioxide emissions, emitting 707 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2017. That comes to 13 percent of the nation’s total carbon dioxide emissions while accounting for 22 percent of the nation’s total energy production.

He also intends to reestablish the vehicle emissions standards Trump eased back in March. This easement is estimated to knock $1,000 of manufacturing cost off the vehicle sale prices, but critics object that the emissions are not worth the savings.

Another aspect of Biden’s plan is to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, a toothless pact between nations to curb the marginal global temperature increase. President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement in 2017.

Positioning himself as the pro-oil and gas candidate, President Trump visited the Permian Basin in July. And with his plan, Biden is hoping to toe both the progressive and moderate lines to gain unilateral support among Democrats. Polling has shown the pair closer in Texas than expected with just over two months remaining in the campaign.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.