Biden chastises oil industry over fuel costs

WASHINGTON – US President Joe Biden on Wednesday chastised the oil industry over soaring fuel prices at the heart of 40-year-high inflation, warning of unspecified emergency measures.

In a letter to seven major oil corporations, Biden delivered his most direct salvo yet in a campaign to blame the industry for stoking price increases.

Average fuel prices are now $5 a gallon for drivers in the United States, up from $3 a year ago, and the spike is reverberating through the entire economy, helping to sink Biden's approval ratings to below 40%.

"Refinery profit margins well above normal being passed directly onto American families are not acceptable," Biden wrote in the letter to executives from Shell, Marathon Petroleum Corp, Valero Energy Corp, ExxonMobil, Phillips 66, Chevron and BP.

Biden said the economy is in "a time of war," referring to the global fallout from President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions against energy exporter Russia.

"My administration is prepared to use all reasonable and appropriate federal government tools and emergency authorities to increase refinery capacity and output in the near term, and to ensure that every region of this country is appropriately supplied," Biden said, without detailing what kind of actions he could take.

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that Biden sees it as US oil companies' "patriotic duty" to increase capacity.

The president has regularly lambasted the oil industry for what he says is a failure to tap into already approved wells and increase output.

But the letter, accompanied by a graph depicting rising producer profits, marked an escalation in the war of words.

In the letter, Biden asked for "explanation of any reduction in your refining capacity since 2020 and any concrete ideas that would address the immediate inventory, price, and refining capacity issues in the coming months – including transportation measures to get refined product to market."

"The crunch that families are facing deserves immediate action. Your companies need to work with my Administration to bring forward concrete, near-term solutions that address the crisis," he wrote.

Biden's Democratic Party risks a heavy defeat, losing control of Congress, in November elections and polls show that fears over the economy dominate.

In a fiery speech Tuesday, Biden blamed Republican obstruction in Congress and Russia's war in Ukraine for price increases that he said are "sapping the strength of a lot of families."

The US Federal Reserve announced the most aggressive interest rate increase in nearly 30 years Wednesday, raising the benchmark borrowing rate by 0.75 percentage points.

The goal is to tamp down inflation, but Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said the central bank was "not trying to induce a recession."

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