By Nandita Bose and Jarrett Renshaw
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden has publicly criticized oil and gas executives for reaping big profits from high gas prices, but he has rarely spoken directly to energy company chiefs or their representatives , according to White House records and interviews with industry sources.
Biden told a labor event this month that Exxon Mobil Corp “made more money than God this year” and sent a letter to seven oil and gas companies calling on them to ramp up production to help ease the burden on consumers.
His actual engagement with energy company officials is rare, however, according to industry sources and records, a stark contrast to Biden’s meetings with top executives in retail, logistics and manufacturing. agriculture, as the government grapples with inflation at its highest level in 40 years and supply chain grunts.
Average gas prices at the pump haven’t been this high in decades, including during the energy crisis of the late 1970s.
The White House Biden’s strained relationship with the fossil fuel industry has been further complicated as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has reduced global energy supplies and sent crude oil prices skyrocketing and natural gas.
Biden, who campaigned on a promise to reduce reliance on fossil fuels that contribute to carbon emissions linked to climate change, is leaning on industry to curb inflation. Oil and gas companies are making higher profits than they have in decades and are mostly returning that windfall to shareholders in the form of buyouts.
Industry executives complain that Biden is not asking for help in the wrong way.
“Your administration has widely sought to criticize, and at times vilify, our industry,” Chevron CEO Michael Wirth wrote in an open letter to Biden published Tuesday.
“The administration’s awareness is lacking,” said Frank Macchiarola, senior policy officer at the American Petroleum Institute trade body.
Asked about the Chevron CEO’s letter, Biden said, “I had no idea they would get hurt so easily.”
CARROT AND STICK APPROACH
The Biden administration has forged a carrot-and-stick relationship with many businesses, criticizing certain corporate practices and encouraging unions while offering pro-industry change and practical support on issues like safeguarded ports. .
Last year, the White House held four meetings with chief executives to address a supply chain crisis that resulted in a shortage of merchandise over the Christmas holidays. Biden participated in three of them, according to White House records; none involved oil and gas companies.
White House officials have worked closely with tech companies to combat misinformation about COVID-19, the leaders involved told Reuters. Biden met with infant formula retailers and manufacturers as his administration tackled a baby formula shortage.
However, he has only met once with the CEOs of Exxon, Chevron and ConocoPhillips, as part of a broader energy, manufacturing, shipping and banking briefing to discuss the crisis. Ukraine, an event organized in March by the Business Roundtable.
This month, when Exxon and Chevron requested a meeting at the White House for their chief executives, they saw Brian Deese, who heads Biden’s National Economic Council. When asked by Reuters on June 20 if he would sit down with oil and gas CEOs, Biden replied, “No … because my team will.”
The White House said in a statement to Reuters that in addition to numerous meetings with Cabinet secretaries, oil industry executives have met with White House officials on more than a dozen separate occasions over the of the past year. A White House official did not say when the meetings took place and who attended.
“President Biden has made it clear that he is ready to use every tool at his disposal to lower gas prices for the American people,” the official said.
The departure of Cedric Richmond, director of the Office of Public Engagement, coincided with fewer White House contacts, industry officials said. Biden’s climate adviser Gina McCarthy, who has met regularly with oil and gas industry officials in the past, does not take such meetings.
Biden has asked US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm to call an emergency meeting with industry officials, scheduled for Thursday.
GAS PRICES ARE POLITICAL
Western sanctions imposed on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine have led to low fuel and oil supplies in Europe, forcing European nations to compete for barrels with the United States. Crude prices have doubled since Biden took office and gasoline prices are at an all-time high.
Chart: The Real Cost of Gasoline – https://graphics.Reuters.com/USA-ENERGY/COSTS-GASOLINE/zdvxokwympx/chart.png
US voters’ worries about the economy are their top concern, according to opinion polls, and are a major drag on Democrat Biden’s popularity.
Blaming energy companies is unlikely to encourage them to spend more on boosting supplies, especially when Democrats and investors have spent the past few years pushing to cut carbon emissions, industry experts said.
The industry has favored Republicans in US elections for decades.
Ed Hirs, an energy economist at the University of Houston, said Biden’s open vilification of the oil industry represents an “old playbook” that rarely works and only ensures that both sides refuse to talk.
“I haven’t seen this much vitriol since the 1970s,” Hirs said.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose and Jarrett Renshaw in Washington; Editing by Heather Timmons, David Gaffen and Grant McCool)