In a pointed back and forth, the head of Chevron complained Tuesday that President Joe Biden has vilified energy firms at a time when gasoline prices are at near record levels and the president responded that the oil company CEO was being “mildly sensitive.”
The president in recent weeks has criticized oil producers and refiners for maximizing profits and making “more money than God,'' rather than increasing production in response to higher prices as the economy recovers from the pandemic and feels the effects of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Michael Wirth, chairman and CEO of Chevron, sent Biden a letter via email on Tuesday that said the president's own words have been self-defeating in terms of encouraging companies to boost their output.
Chevron is investing in more production, Wirth wrote, but “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.''
The oil company CEO said he wanted a more cooperative relationship with the government.
“Let's work together,'' Wirth wrote. “The American people rightly expect our country's leaders and industry to address the challenges they are facing in a serious and resolute manner.''
Asked about those comments, Biden displayed no sympathy.
“He's mildly sensitive,'' Biden said. “I didn't know they'd get their feelings hurt that quickly. Look, we need more refining capacity. This idea that they don't have oil to drill and to bring up is simply not true.''
Average gas prices are nearly $5 a gallon nationwide, a strain on commuters and a political albatross for Biden's fellow Democrats going into the midterm elections. That has left the White House scrambling for solutions, including a possible suspension of the 18.4 cents a gallon federal gas tax. Biden plans to decide by the end of the week if the tax should be suspended, a move meant to relieve price pressures and that would need approval from a reluctant Congress.
The gas tax funds highways, but Biden said Tuesday any lost revenue would not have a major impact on road construction because of last year's $1 trillion infrastructure law.
The clash between the Biden administration and oil producers and refiners unfolded ahead of a Thursday meeting that Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm will hold with energy companies.
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