Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden defended his decision to attend a fundraiser Thursday co-hosted by a founder of a liquefied natural gas company, saying he was still committed to the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge despite criticisms from environmental groups.

“I just want to be very clear to everyone here: I am committed to not raising money from fossil fuel executives, and I am not doing that tonight,” Biden told a group of donors at the event in Manhattan on Thursday evening, according to a pool report. “Climate change presents an existential threat, and it is real .… I’m so tired of having a president who picks fiction over science.”

The former vice president’s comments came a day after he was asked by an audience member during CNN’s climate change town hall event about his scheduled appearance, which was first reported by CNBC and The Intercept.

The fundraiser was co-hosted by Andrew Goldman, the co-founder of a Houston-based natural gas company called Western LNG. Goldman no longer has any day-to-day responsibilities at the company but is listed on Western LNG’s leadership page. He also co-founded an investment group that funded projects related to “natural resources and energy,” in part.

Goldman has close ties to the Biden campaign and was an adviser to the candidate when he was in the Senate.

“What I was told by my staff is he did not have any responsibility relating to the company,” Biden said Wednesday when asked about his ties to Goldman. “He was not on the board, he was not involved at all in the operation of the company at all. But if that turns out to be true, I will not in any way accept his help. We check every single contribution.”

Biden signed the fossil fuel pledge in June, promising not to accept any campaign contributions over $200 from PACs, lobbyists or fossil fuel executives named by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

What @andersoncooper just said about VP Biden's fundraiser is factually incorrect. Andrew Goldman isn't a fossil fuel executive. He's not involved in the day to day operation. He's not on the board of the company, nor the board of the portfolio company.

— Symone D. Sanders (@SymoneDSanders) September 5, 2019

The Biden campaign aggressively defended itself after the question made the rounds on social media, saying the characterization was “factually incorrect” and that he hadn’t violated the pledge. Biden’s team did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his remarks Thursday.

But, as HuffPost’s Chris D’Angelo noted this week, the argument about what constitutes an “executive” is largely semantic. The Sunrise Movement, a youth-led coalition of environmental activists who helped garner support for the Green New Deal, said Biden’s engagement with Goldman “clearly violates the spirit” of the pledge.

The fundraiser on Thursday drew a small contingent of protesters who chanted “No fossil fuel money!” and “Hey hey, hey, Joe, fracked gas has got to go.”

Climate activists protesting on CPW at site where Joe Biden is believed to be attending a fundraiser co-hosted by the co-founder of a company in the natural gas industry, which they say violates a pledge not to take large donations from fossil-fuel industry. pic.twitter.com/yrwQXTnkD7

— Anne Barnard (@ABarnardNYT) September 5, 2019

Let's be clear. The rules of the #NoFossilFuelMoney pledge are there to help candidates stay in compliance. They are *NOT* there to help candidates weasel out of it. This from @JoeBiden at #ClimateTownHall feels very much like that latter. And that's…not a good look.

— David Turnbull (@david_turnbull) September 5, 2019

Climate change has become one of the key issues of the 2020 presidential race, and many of the Democratic candidates have unveiled detailed, trillion-dollar plans to address the crisis should they unseat President Donald Trump. Biden initially faced criticism amid reports that he was planning to unveil a “middle ground” approach to the issue but responded with his own policy based on the Green New Deal that would decarbonize the U.S. economy by 2050.

Biden’s plan only addresses fossil fuels in vague terms, but he has received a B+ rating from Greenpeace and support from 350 Action and Data for Progress for his stance on climate issues.

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