Bill Cassidy 072420

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, addressed the press after qualifying to run for reelection on Friday, July 24, 2020.

As election day looms, U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy has seized on comments by Joe Biden in Thursday night’s presidential debate that Cassidy and Republicans say were an attack on the oil and gas industry.

The former vice president and Democratic nominee for president pledged to “transition away from the oil and gas industry” as part of his plan to tackle climate change by promoting renewable energy.

After the debate, Biden sought to clarify his remarks, saying he expects fossil fuels will remain a part of the country’s energy mix until 2050. He added that what he wants to eliminate in the short term are fossil-fuel subsidies.

Cassidy, who is seeking a second term on Nov. 3, treated Biden’s statements as an outright pledge to shut down the oil and gas industry in such states as Louisiana.

“I think it exposes the elitism of the Democratic Party,” Cassidy said to Breitbart, a right-wing website, and then seemed to indicate that a shutdown by Biden would be immediate. “I read Joe flew away (from the debate) in his private jet. He will still have the jet fuel; he will just buy it from someplace else.”

But the jobs in Louisiana’s oil and gas industry would be “gone,” Cassidy said.

Gregory Upton, a research professor at LSU’s Center for Energy Studies, estimates that Louisiana’s oil and gas industry currently employs 64,000 workers, down from 72,000 before the coronavirus hit and caused demand to plummet.

In Thursday night’s debate, Biden said he wants to replace fossil fuels with renewables “over time,” and he noted that the oil and gas industry “pollutes significantly.”

President Donald Trump seemed to view Biden’s comments as a political gift, immediately seizing on them and asking people in Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Texas if they were listening. Cassidy had a similar view.

“Clearly, they thought it was a mistake to finally let out the truth, but what I find is most upsetting is the future of those families is those jobs,” Cassidy told Breitbart. “When I’m re-elected, it’ll be over my dead body if he pushes that agenda, and I cannot believe the lack of concern he’s showing for families that depend on that income.”

Tyler Gray, the president and CEO of Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, expressed less concern than Cassidy with Biden’s comments.

“We don’t have to choose between reducing emissions and meeting energy needs. We can do both,” Gray said in a statement. “We are proud of the grit, innovation, and progress we’ve made so that Americans no longer have to choose between environmental progress and access to affordable, reliable, and cleaner energy and we aren’t going anywhere.”

Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins, who is Cassidy’s main Democratic opponent, said he has family members who work in the oil and gas industry.

“We can't overstate the importance of oil and gas to Louisiana's economy, and as Louisiana's next senator I will always put Louisiana first,” Perkins said in a statement, adding that Cassidy is “peddling a false choice meant to scare voters. But Louisianans aren't buying it. We know that renewable energies bring more better-paying, stable jobs and we will diversify our economy so Louisiana can be on the forefront of the new American economy.”

Biden has said transitioning to other sources of energy over time will create millions of new jobs. Upton estimated that solar, wind and other renewables currently provide less than 4% of electricity generation in Louisiana.

Gov. John Bel Edwards did not respond to a request for comment on Biden’s remarks.

Email Tyler Bridges at tbridges@theadvocate.com.