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In the run-up to the midterm elections, President Joe Biden couldn’t resist taking shots at the Democratic Party’s favorite scapegoat. As Americans continued to face high prices at the pump, Biden blasted oil and gas companies for “war profiteering” off Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

He raised the prospect of a so-called windfall-profit tax on the oil industry, which already exists in the United Kingdom and Europe. While Biden did not explicitly endorse a plan, congressional Democrats have been pushing various proposals for months. And it probably did them some good at the polls, since Big Oil is an effective Democratic Party boogeyman.

Biden is correct that oil and gas companies are minting money, and they do indeed seem out of touch with the impact of energy inflation on ordinary households. Consider Exxon Mobil Corp. boss Darren Woods: Announcing the company’s highest-ever, $19.7 billion quarterly profit at the end of October, Woods acknowledged the pressure to return funds “directly” to the American people. “That’s exactly what we’re doing in the form of our quarterly dividend,” he declared.

“Can’t believe I have to say this,” the White House shot back via Biden’s Twitter account, “but giving profits to shareholders is not the same as bringing prices down for American families.”

Actually, American families can invest in a share of Exxon Mobil for a little over $110, commission free on many online sites, but the Biden White House was not about to it point out. It would rather turn these unpopular companies into political targets.

Contrary to what the White House suggests, they don’t set the price for oil. Global commodity markets set prices by factoring in war, recession, production capacity and supply shortages. And those prices can go down in a hurry, as they did during the pandemic.

The president is no friend to Big Oil, and arguably has done as much as anyone to speed the transition away from fossil fuels, including the passage of landmark climate legislation. But the current short supplies and high prices in the U.S. have as much to do with ex-President Donald Trump. The domestic industry fared a lot worse under his administration than is commonly understood.

Trump’s efforts to roll back environmental regulations were chaotic and beset by legal challenges. His rash decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord was no favor to the oil industry, either. The 2015 agreement provides a useful framework for dealing with climate change, which companies like Exxon have supported by reducing emissions and investing in carbon capture and storage.

Trump reversed promises to expand offshore production, failed to revive the coal industry and perpetuated the long-standing requirement to water down motor fuel with ethanol — an anti-free-market policy beloved by farm-state Republicans because it subsidizes politically favored farmers and agribusinesses.

Editorial: We shouldn’t shame US oil companies for making money

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