Chevron on Tuesday told President Biden that if he is truly interested in blunting high gas prices, his administration should stop demonizing oil companies and instead engage in “honest dialogue” about the importance of domestic oil production.
Mike Wirth, chair and CEO of the energy giant, said “clarity and consistency” from the White House on energy policy would do more to rein in gasoline prices than name-calling and threats.
Speaking to reporters, Mr. Biden labeled Mr. Wirth’s words as “mildly sensitive” and reiterated his call for more refining production.
“I didn’t realize they would get their feelings hurt that quickly,” the president said. “We ought to be able to work something out whereby they’re able to increase refining capacity and still not give up on transitioning to renewable energy.”
Mr. Wirth was responding to Mr. Biden‘s claim last week that corporate greed is to blame for sky-high prices at the pump and to the president’s threat to invoke emergency wartime powers to force more gasoline production.
“Addressing this situation requires thoughtful action and a willingness to work together, not political rhetoric,” Mr. Wirth wrote in a letter.
Mr. Biden previously told Chevron and the other major oil companies that “refinery profit margins well above normal being passed directly onto American families are not acceptable.” He also warned that he could use the Defense Production Act to force the industry’s hand.
But Chevron is already working to ramp up its output, according to Mr. Wirth. The company is putting an extra $18 billion this year — a more than 50% increase from last year — toward boosting production to meet a lack of supply stemming from the pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine.
“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,” Mr. Wirth said.
Fuel costs have become a major thorn in the side of the Biden administration and are jeopardizing Democrats’ control over Washington as the midterm elections approach.
The national average for a gallon of gas continued to hover around $5 on Tuesday, according to AAA. That’s thanks to a lack of refining capacity to turn crude oil into gasoline and diesel, as well as Russia’s war against Ukraine that has intensified a global oil shortage.
Mr. Wirth urged for “clarity and consistency on policy matters,” such as permitting regulations and drilling on federal lands.
But “most importantly,” he said the industry requires “an honest dialogue on how to best balance energy, economic and environmental objectives — one that recognizes our industry is a vital sector of the U.S. economy and is essential to our national security.”
ExxonMobil last week also responded to the president’s rhetoric, rejecting Mr. Biden‘s assertions that Big Oil was bilking consumers. ExxonMobil also urged for a “clear and consistent policy” that supports the energy industry.
The tense back-and-forth exchanges come as Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and other administration officials are set to meet Thursday at the White House with major oil companies, including Chevron and ExxonMobil.
Mr. Biden will not attend. The White House has declined to specify why.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre characterized the get-together as a meaningful “first step” toward combating high gas prices.
“Our goal is to make sure we have a sit-down conversation, and we come up with solutions that we’ve worked with the CEOs and figure out what else we can do,” she said.
Mr. Biden is weighing whether to call on Congress to suspend the federal gas tax, which is 18.4 cents per gallon. But economists and energy analysts, including a former top economic adviser to President Barack Obama, have warned such a move may have little impact on prices and could exacerbate the issue.
In addition, top congressional Democrats consider pausing the tax to be a political stunt that would take money away from major infrastructure projects that Congress allocated money for just months ago.