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Biden is under pressure on gas prices. So he's putting pressure on oil companies

President Biden railed against oil company profits at an event at the Port of Los Angeles, saying, "Exxon made more money than God last year."
Mario Tama
Getty Images
President Biden railed against oil company profits at an event at the Port of Los Angeles, saying, "Exxon made more money than God last year."

Under intense political pressure to address soaring gasoline prices, President Biden is trying to push the nation's largest refiners to do more to boost supplies and lower prices.

In a letter to the companies on Wednesday, Biden said refiners are taking advantage of the crisis, seeing record-high profit margins at a time when inflation has soared and families are finding it hard to afford to fill up their cars.

"At a time of war, refinery profit margins well above normal being passed directly onto American families are not acceptable," he wrote in the letter, which went to Exxon Mobil Corp., BP and Shell, among others.

"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, noting he had already invoked his emergency powers in other ways.

He did not specify what the government could do to force changes.

U.S. refiners cut production during the pandemic. Biden says it's time to bring more of it back

Global oil prices have spiked since Russia invaded Ukraine, prompting Western nations to sanction Moscow, and cut purchases of Russian energy.

During the pandemic, when energy consumption dropped precipitously, companies took some of their capacity to refine oil into gasoline offline. Biden told them it's time to bring that production back.

Biden said he directed his energy secretary to convene an emergency meeting with oil companies in coming days. "I request that you provide the secretary with an 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," he said.

Biden has made fighting inflation his top priority. He and Democrats are worried that voters will blame them for not doing enough to bring down rising prices.

In recent weeks, Biden has been increasing pressure on oil companies. Last week, in a speech about inflation that he gave at the Port of Los Angeles, he targeted Exxon Mobil.

"Exxon made more money than God this year," Biden said.

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Franco Ordoñez
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.