Oil executives testify at tense hearing on Capitol Hill over who is to blame for soaring gas prices

by mcardinal

Chris Lange, FISM News


Democrats and Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee grilled oil executives on Capitol Hill Wednesday over who is responsible for Americans’ lingering pain at the pump, frequently interrupting their responses. 

Chair Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) demanded that executives respond to questions about the cause of high gas prices with “yes” or “no” answers, cutting them off when they tried to explain the complexity of the issue.

“Madam chair, fuel prices are impacted by a number of factors,” Chevron Corp. CEO Michael Wirth began when DeGette interrupted, asking, “So you don’t agree that crude oil prices are high because there’s less supply?”.

Ranking Member H. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) grew impatient with executives whom he accused of equivocation in their responses to questions about whether rhetoric from the Biden administration has impacted their energy production investment. 

“So, apparently everybody wants to get in the weeds and hide behind words,” Griffith said testily during his questioning of Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Darren Woods. “The president says he wants to make sure that we do not lower the cost of production. Is that going to make you produce more or less? Mr. Woods, more or less?” Griffith asked.

“I think the government has a role in encouraging investment and creating a positive investment climate,” Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Darren Woods responded.

“And when we create a negative climate you produce less, isn’t that true. Yes or no?” Griffith pressed. 

“There tends to be a chilling effect with negative words,” Woods responded.

 Griffith continued to push the issue, asking Woods to “weigh in on this and give me a real answer?” Wirth responded that “mixed messages” tend to discourage investment.

Griffith shot back, saying the administration is not sending mixed messages but rather “a clearly anti-fossil fuel message.” 

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) pressed Woods and other executives to commit to increasing production and reducing investor dividends and stock buybacks.

“We are increasing production,” Woods said. 

“Well, I need a yes or no,” Pallone responded. 

“We will increase our production, yes,” Woods said. 

“But … that means you’re not going to reduce dividends and buybacks,” Pallone said. “Well, that’s unfortunate because we need you to do that as well.”

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) suggested that her Democratic colleagues were using the hearing as an opportunity to grandstand. 

“This hearing is a deliberate distraction … today is purely political,” Rodgers said. “President Biden needs cover for his war on American energy that has caused gas prices to skyrocket,” she added.

Since banning imports of Russian oil last month, the White House embarked on a campaign to blame America’s soaring energy costs on Russia’s war with Ukraine and Big Oil greed. President Biden’s decision to tap the Strategic Oil Reserve last month failed to have much of an impact on prices, which continue to hover around $100 per barrel. Average nationwide gas prices Thursday were at $4.153 per gallon, according to AAA, just below the record of $4.331 set on March 11. 

Democrats facing tough midterm elections have been making the case that oil executives are placing profits ahead of relief for Americans and profiteering off of Russia’s war on Ukraine.  Republicans, however, are quick to point out that energy prices surged well before the war and place the blame directly on the Biden administration’s Green New Deal regulatory environment that disincentivizes domestic oil production.