President Joe Biden on Tuesday lashed out at Chevron chief executive Mike Wirth, calling the oil major boss “sensitive” after criticizing the US administration’s energy policy, saying higher fuel prices are fueling tensions between the White House and the domestic industry.
The exchange came ahead of Thursday’s meeting between senior industry executives, including Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Wirth, whose company is the second largest US oil and gas producer by market value.
US President’s rhetoric on oil companies has been heating up in recent weeks. This month, he criticized ExxonMobil as “earning more than God this year” and told the oil supermajor to “start investing more”. Last week, he criticized the industry’s high profits for being “unacceptable” during the war, a conflict that has escalated in Ukraine.
Rising fuel prices at the pump have become a political weakness for Biden, as signs in petrol bunkers have telegraphed the highest inflation rate the US has experienced in 40 years. According to the American Automobile Association, the national average price for petrol was $ 4.97 a gallon on Tuesday.
Wirth sent a letter to Biden on Tuesday saying that a “change in policy” was needed by the administration to increase fuel supply and reduce prices. He denounced the White House for “criticizing and sometimes abusing our industry.”
Asked about the letter at a White House event, Biden called Wirth “mildly sensitive” and “did not know that he was hurting his feelings so quickly.” The president called on the industry to increase fuel supply.
In his letter, Wirth said the industry could reduce the price of pumping immediately, suggesting that this week’s meeting is unlikely to offer relief to drivers in the US.
“There are no easy solutions or short-term answers to the global supply and demand imbalance, exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Wirth wrote.
Among other measures to address high fuel prices, the president said earlier this week that he would seek to reduce 18.4 cents a gallon on the federal gasoline tax, although such a move would require action by Congress.
Biden said emergency powers could be used to add oil refining capacity, but criticized the industry for shutting down refineries in recent years. The profit margin for processing petrol and diesel has reached record levels.
Refining executives said they were already producing at or near their peak capacity but they were still struggling to keep up with demand.
Asked about Biden’s comments, Chevron said: “Mike looks forward to Thursday’s meeting with Secretary of State Granholm and hopes for a constructive dialogue on the problems of energy markets and the long-term stability of the solution.”