President Biden on Tuesday dismissed Chevron CEO Mike Wirth’s plea to take a different approach with the oil industry, saying the oil executive was being “mildly sensitive.”
During a press conference, Biden was asked to respond to Wirth’s letter, in which he argued that the president’s vilification of the industry was doing nothing to help lower record-high gas prices.
“He’s mildly sensitive. I didn’t know they’d get their feelings hurt that quickly,” Biden said. “Look, we need more refining capacity. This idea that they don’t have oil to drill and to bring up is simply not true.”
He added: “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. They’re both within the realm of possibility.”
Biden sent a letter to oil executives last week, chastising them for running “historically high profit margins” and not doing enough to lower fuel prices.
In his letter to Biden, Wirth argued that Chevron was “doing its part … by increasing capital expenditures to $18 billion in 2022, more than 50% higher than last year.”
“Chevron and its 37,000 employees work every day to help provide the world with the energy it demands and to lift up the lives of billions of people who rely on these supplies,” Wirth said. “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.”
Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows oil refineries are operating at near peak capacity.
The clash between Biden and Wirth comes ahead of a Thursday meeting that Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm will hold with energy companies.
Average gas prices are nearly $5 a gallon nationwide, a strain on commuters and a political headache 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 Associated Press contributed to this report.