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U.S. energy chief to discuss record pump prices with refiners next week

(Reuters) - U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is expected to meet with refining executives on June 23 as tensions between the White House and the oil industry mount over soaring gasoline prices, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The planned talks come as President Joe Biden, under pressure over high gasoline prices, has demanded that oil refining companies explain why they are not putting more fuel on the market as they reap windfall profits.

The Energy Department had no comment, but referred to a letter Biden sent on Wednesday to executives from companies, including Marathon Petroleum Corp, Valero Energy Corp and Exxon Mobil Corp, that said he had directed Granholm to hold an emergency meeting and engage the National Petroleum Council in coming days. The NPC is a privately-funded panel that makes recommendations to the energy secretary and executive branch.

The U.S. oil industry's main trade groups pushed back on the Biden administration on Wednesday in a letter to Biden, pointing out that the nation's oil refineries are already running at close to full capacity.

"Any suggestion that U.S. refiners are not doing our part to bring stability to the market is false," said Chet Thompson, the head of the American Fuel and Petrochemicals Manufacturers.

Energy companies are enjoying bumper profits since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, as punitive U.S. sanctions against Moscow add to a global supply squeeze driving crude prices above $100 a barrel and U.S. gasoline prices to records over $5 a gallon.

U.S. refiners, meanwhile, are running at near-peak levels to process fuel - currently at 94% of capacity, according to government data.

The White House, concerned about voter anger ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections, has already attempted to curb energy inflation by releasing record amounts of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and by waiving some anti-smog regulations for summertime blends of gasoline.

But administration officials are in touch with the refining industry to determine if there are other actions that can be taken to increase fuel supplies.

(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw, additional reporting by Timothy Gardner, writing by Chris Gallagher; Editing by Doina Chiacu, David Evans and Marguerita Choy)

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