Pennsylvania Republican Senate nominee Mehmet Oz claims without evidence that environmental regulations are responsible for oil companies' high prices.
Pennsylvania Republican Senate nominee Mehmet Oz complained Tuesday that President Joe Biden was being mean to fossil fuel companies. Biden sent a letter to seven large oil companies on June 14 urging them to increase production, which was reduced in response to the coronavirus pandemic, in order to lower record-high gasoline prices, and criticizing the "unprecedented disconnect between the price of oil and the price of gas."
During an appearance by Oz on a right-wing podcast that was posted on June 21, host Rose Tennent asked him about Biden's recent criticism of oil and gas companies.
"Rose, it's reprehensible," he replied. "It's not how Americans have dealt with problems. We're a brave people, we own our problems and we address them. He's doing the opposite. And the oil industry, natural gas folks who provide base energy for our nation and its growth are being vilified and they're being hurt in ways that are invisible to the voter, which is wrong."
Oz continued, "If we decide that, to get rid of all energy, then we as a nation need to vote on that. But they're doing reprehensible things, like telling banks not to loan them money. They're not being allowed to drill, their permitting process got long, they're adding extra taxes, rules and regulations that they know can't be followed."
According to AAA, gas prices across the country are currently averaging $5 per gallon. These high prices have resulted in massive profit windfalls for large gasoline companies.
On Wednesday, Chevron CEO Mike Wirth used similar language to Oz's in an open letter to Biden, writing: "Chevron and its 37,000 employees work every day to help provide the world with the energy it demands and to lift up the lives of billions of people who rely on these supplies. Notwithstanding these efforts, your Administration has largely sought to criticize, and at times vilify, our industry. These actions are not beneficial to meeting the challenges we face and are not what the American people deserve."
"He's mildly sensitive," Biden told reporters in response. "I didn't know they'd get their feelings hurt that quickly."
Oz tweeted on June 23, "MAKE AMERICAN ENERGY INDEPENDENT AGAIN!" His campaign website includes a section on "energy independence" in which the New Jersey-based television personality embraces deregulation of the energy industry:
The Biden Administration has launched an attack on the energy industry stifling domestic energy production and weakening the U.S. position in energy production. These attacks have resulted in skyrocketing gas and energy prices and made our current energy options less reliable. Dr. Oz will work to overturn these heavy-handed regulations that are hurting Pennsylvania jobs and our local communities.
The increases in gasoline prices come after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down much of the United States economy under then-President Donald Trump in 2020, resulting in low demand and low prices. The cost per gallon increased as the economy reopened and demand returned.
After Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his army into Ukraine in February, Congress voted almost unanimously to halt imports of Russian oil and gas, which lead to a major price spike but also to huge profits for American fuel companies.
Biden ran for president in 2020 on a promise to protect the climate and move the country toward clean energy. Trump unsuccessfully tried to make Biden's support for restrictions on drilling and fracking a major campaign issue, especially in the swing state of Pennsylvania, but Biden won the state by more than 80,000 votes.
Some of Biden's clean energy agenda passed as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which included $171 million to support an electric vehicle charging network in Pennsylvania. Much more of it is being negotiated as part of a scaled-down Build Back Better package.
Polls in the state have shown voters strongly support federal action to protect the climate. An October poll for the Nature Conservancy found 59% of registered Pennsylvania voters support action to reduce carbon emissions that fuel climate change.
Oz, who is a heart surgeon, once opposed fracking, citing public health concerns around "toxic chemicals," but it is one of many topics on which he has flip-flopped since becoming a candidate. He now denies climate science entirely, falsely claiming in an op-ed for the right-wing outlet Newsmax in March, "As a doctor and scientist, I can tell you that our country can't afford to ignore the science of energy any longer. We must cast aside Biden's woke energy agenda which steals our jobs, increases inflation, and makes us dependent on hostile nations."
The oil and gas sector has rewarded Oz with campaign cash. He has reported taking nearly $40,000 in contributions from energy executives already, and on Thursday his campaign was set to host an "Energy Industry Meet & Greet" event at the offices of energy lobbyist Missy Edwards in Washington.
Oz will face Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman in the November election for the Pennsylvania Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.
Fetterman's campaign website highlights his commitment to climate justice, a pledge to take no large contributions from "oil, gas, and coal industry executives, lobbyists, and PACs," and a clear acknowledgment that "Climate change is an existential threat, and we need to transition to clean energy as quickly as possible."
The race is expected to be close.
A USA Today/Suffolk University poll released June 15 found Fetterman leading Oz by 46%-37%. An AARP poll released Wednesday found Fetterman ahead 50%-44% among likely voters.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.