U.S. Gulf of Mexico auction attracts pent up demand from oil drillers

By Nichola Groom

(Reuters) -The Biden administration’s auction of oil drilling rights in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico generated more than $190 million in high bids, bringing in more money for taxpayers than any government offshore lease sale since early 2019.

The Department of Interior auction came days after the U.S. joined a global agreement that for the first time asked governments to accelerate emissions cuts by phasing down coal and fossil fuel subsidies.

It was the first auction under President Joe Biden, whose administration paused drilling sales under a promise to end development on federal properties. But Biden lost a court fight to oil-producing states that sued to reinstate the sales.

The sale’s total high bids – $191,688,984 — was announced by U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Gulf of Mexico Director Mike Celata on a live webcast. The bureau, an arm of the Interior department, had offered almost all available unleased Gulf of Mexico blocks, or 80 million acres. About 2% of that acreage, or about 1.7 million acres, sold.

The total high bids was far higher than the $121 million the government received at a sale held by the Trump administration a year ago, but the price per acre sold was around $112 compared with $233 at last year’s auction.

Major bidders included Exxon Mobil Corp, which snapped up nearly a third of the tracts for $14.9 million, and Chevron Corp, which was the auction’s biggest spender at with $47.1 million in high bids. Anadarko Petroleum Corp, owned by Occidental Petroleum Corp., BP and Royal Dutch Shell were also among the top five bidders.

Anadarko placed the highest single bid — more than $10 million — for a tract in the deep water Alaminos Canyon.

The sale was the first opportunity to test the oil and gas industry’s demand for Gulf acreage with energy prices at multi-year highs. U.S. crude futures on Tuesday settled at $80.76 a barrel, up 95% in the last 12 months.

Despite the court-ordered resumption of auctions, Interior spokesperson Melissa Schwartz said the agency was “conducting a more comprehensive analysis of greenhouse gas impacts from potential oil and gas lease sales than ever before.”

Environmental groups strongly opposed the sale and had called on Biden to cancel it over the last week.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; additional reporting by Sebastien Malo in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler, David Gregorio and Aurora Ellis)

U.S. calls on nations to set bold targets for offshore wind

(Reuters) – A top Biden administration official on Thursday challenged nations to join the United States in setting aggressive goals to expand electricity production from offshore wind.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland issued the call during an appearance at the United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow.

The administration of President Joe Biden has moved swiftly this year to support a nascent offshore wind industry in the United States, a key part of its plan to decarbonize the power sector by 2035 and address global warming.

But it has stumbled in its effort to restrict fossil fuel development on federal lands after a court in June ordered the government to resume drilling auctions that were paused by Biden in January.

“We are in an exciting time – and the Biden-Harris administration is taking bold action to advance clean energy to make people’s lives better and build a more sustainable future,” Haaland said. “Together, we need to set ambitious goals and commit the resources to get it done.”

The White House earlier this year set a target of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy along every U.S. coastline by 2030. That would be enough electricity to power 10 million homes.

The 30-GW goal is roughly the amount that already exists in Europe’s two-decade old industry, but is a tall order for a nation that currently has just two small offshore wind farms.

Interior permitted what is expected to be the first major U.S. offshore wind farm, the 800 megawatt Vineyard Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts, in May.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Analysis: Wide array of opponents prepare to fight Biden vaccine mandate

By Nandita Bose and Tom Hals

(Reuters) – The country’s first national COVID-19 vaccine mandate, expected to be unveiled by the Biden administration this week, is likely to unleash a frenzied legal battle that will hinge on a rarely used law and questions over federal power and authority over healthcare.

States, companies, trade groups, civil liberty advocates and religious organizations are expected to rush to court with demands to stop the mandate in its tracks. Two dozen Republican state attorneys general have already vowed to use “every legal option” to fight the mandate and 40 Republican lawmakers said on Wednesday they were preparing their own challenge.

Details of the vaccine and testing requirements for private employers remain under wraps. The administration has said that the rule is coming and that it requires certain businesses to “develop, implement and enforce” a mandatory policy that allows employees to either choose to get vaccinated or undergo regular testing and wear a face covering at work.

For opponents, the general principle could not be more clear: the administration’s zeal for fighting the pandemic with vaccinations and testing has trampled the law and the Constitution.

“There will be so much litigation it will never see the light of day,” said Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law Houston.

Some legal experts, however, said protecting against a historic public health crisis provides a compelling justification for the mandate against constitutional challenges that claim it infringes on individual or state rights.

COVID-19 vaccine requirements by colleges, cities, states and companies have generally been upheld. The Supreme Court said on Friday that Maine could impose its mandate on healthcare workers, even without the usual religious exemptions.

However, the national vaccine and testing rule, which will likely run hundreds of pages, will differ in important ways from existing vaccine requirements.

It will be issued as an emergency temporary standard (ETS) by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which regulates workplace dangers. Businesses with at least 100 employees must enforce the rule on their staff or face penalties.

To issue an ETS, OSHA must show there is a “grave danger” in workplaces, and it needs to justify that emergency rule as a necessary response.

A White House spokesperson did not comment for this story. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has said a pandemic that has killed over 740,000 Americans qualifies as a “grave risk to workers.” The Department of Labor declined to comment.

An average of 1,100 Americans are still dying daily from COVID-19, according to the latest U.S. data, the vast majority of them unvaccinated.

However, critics expect the OSHA rule to be vulnerable to legal attacks.

COVID-19 infections are trending down, some 70% of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated and treatments for the disease have improved, potentially undermining the grave danger claim.

“I think there’s an issue as to whether they can show that in every business, in every industry, every employer that has more than 100 employees, there is a grave danger from COVID,” said Scott Hecker, an employment attorney with Seyfarth Shaw, which represents businesses.

Or, as the National Retail Federation described it in a letter to Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, “workers face the danger of COVID-19 wherever they go … because they are human beings going about the world, not because they go to work.”

OSHA has convinced courts to uphold emergency standards in the past with evidence that as few as 80 lives would be saved. It will also be able to argue that masking and other COVID-19 safety measures proved no match for the extremely contagious Delta variant, necessitating the current rules.

“The fact that a person can be exposed to the COVID virus outside of the person’s place of employment does not eliminate OSHA’s authority to regulate,” Sidney Shapiro, a law professor at Wake Forest University, told a Congressional hearing last week.

Republican governors and right-wing talk show hosts have waged a political war against vaccine mandates and mask wearing, hoping to galvanize voters against Democratic President Joe Biden.

Vaccine mandates have been effective at shrinking the ranks of the unvaccinated, although they have also touched off protests, and employers worry they could worsen a national labor shortage.

Mandates on individuals have a long history and have been upheld by courts for more than a century, but they have been imposed by local and states governments, not Washington, which is restrained by the U.S. Constitution.

Critics of the mandate will argue it interferes with traditional states’ roles, namely, regulating healthcare within their boundaries.

OSHA is also fighting history. The agency has issued 10 ETS over its 50 years. Of the six that were challenged in court, only one survived entirely intact.

In the meantime, a huge number of U.S. employers will be left dealing with an uncertain outcome of the legal challenges, even as many focus on achieving compliance.

Mike Bennett, the vice president of human resources for Cianbro, a Maine construction company with 4,000 employees, said he is planning to carry out the OSHA rule.

“Unless something comes from the federal government that says ‘pause until further notice,’ we’ll continue to go down the road that this is coming,” he said.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington and Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware, Editing by Chris Sanders, Amy Stevens and Bill Berkrot)

Israel moves ahead with thousands of settler homes despite U.S. opposition

By Jeffrey Heller and Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israel moved forward on Wednesday with plans to build some 3,000 homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, defying the Biden administration’s strongest criticism to date of such projects.

A senior Palestinian official said the decision showed that Israel’s new government, led by far-right politician Naftali Bennett, was “no less extreme” than the administration of the veteran leader he replaced, Benjamin Netanyahu.

An Israeli defense official said a planning forum of Israel’s liaison office with the Palestinians gave preliminary approval for plans to build 1,344 housing units and its final go-ahead for projects to construct 1,800 homes.

It will be up to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, a centrist in Israel’s politically diverse government, to give the nod for construction permits to be issued, with further friction with Washington looming.

“This government is trying to balance between its good relations with the Biden administration and the various political constraints,” a senior Israeli official told Reuters.

The United States on Tuesday said it was “deeply concerned” about Israel’s plans to advance thousands of settlement units. It called such steps damaging to prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and said it strongly opposes settlement expansion.

Washington desisted from such criticism when President Joe Biden’s Republican predecessor Donald Trump was in office.

A senior U.S. State department official said Secretary of State Antony Blinken had discussed the issue with Gantz on Tuesday. Their phone call was first reported by the Axios news website, which cited Israeli officials as saying the chief U.S. diplomat voiced U.S. opposition to the settlement plan.

The latest projects, as well as tenders published on Sunday for more than 1,300 settler homes, amounted to the first major test case over settlement policy with the Biden administration that took office in January.

“The behavior of the Israeli government under Bennett is no less extreme than what it had been under Netanyahu,” Bassam Al-Salhe, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, told Reuters.

“The U.S. administration has words, and no deeds, to change the policy that had been put in place by Trump,” Salhe said.

There was no immediate comment from Washington on Wednesday.

TIGHTROPE

Walking a political and diplomatic tightrope, Bennett has been facing calls from settler leaders to step up construction. Such projects are likely to be welcomed by his ultranationalist constituents, who share his opposition to Palestinian statehood.

But along with the prospect of straining relations with Washington, Bennett could also alienate left-wing and Arab parties in a coalition governing with a razor-thin parliamentary majority, if they view settlement plans as too ambitious.

Most countries regard the settlements Israel has built in territory it captured in a 1967 Middle East war as illegal.

Israel disputes this and has settled some 440,000 Israelis in the West Bank, citing biblical, historical and political ties to the area, where 3 million Palestinians live.

Palestinians seek to create a state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Humeyra Pamuk, Simon Lewis and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Howard Goller)

White House lays out plan to vaccinate kids ages 5 to 11

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Biden administration on Wednesday outlined its plan to vaccinate millions of kids ages 5 to 11 as soon as the COVID-19 shot is approved for younger children, readying doses and preparing locations ahead of the busy holiday season.

It is working to set up vaccination clinics in more than 100 children’s hospital systems nationwide as well as doctor’s offices, pharmacies and potentially schools, it said.

If Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE’s vaccine wins wider approval, the plan would ensure “it is quickly distributed and made conveniently and equitably available to families across the country,” the White House said in a statement, noting regulators will independently weigh approval.

Food and Drug Administration officials are reviewing the Pfizer/BioNTech application seeking approval of its 2-dose vaccine for younger children, with its panel of outside advisers scheduled to weigh in on Oct. 26. The FDA typically follows the advice of its panel but is not required to do so.

Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will next weigh in on recommendations for the vaccine at a Nov. 2 and 3 meeting, which its director will use in making her own recommendation.

“We will be ready to begin getting shots in arms in the days following a final CDC recommendation,” the White House said ahead of an 8:45 a.m. (1345 GMT) news briefing with U.S. President Joe Biden’s White House COVID-19 response team.

Once approved, roughly 28 million more children in the United States would be eligible to receive what would be the first U.S.-approved vaccine to ward off the novel coronavirus in younger kids. The Pfizer/BioNTech shot is already approved for those ages 12-17, and the companies are still studying it for those younger than 5.

“We have to be prepared to ensure that we can get vaccines to families as soon as the FDA and the CDC issue their decision,” U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told NBC News’ “Today” program.

Murthy said the administration was not looking to get ahead of health regulators but wanted to lay the groundwork to ease distribution to ensure there is ample supply and access to vaccination locations.

While children have a lower rate of death from COVID-19, many still face illness and long-term symptoms that are still being studied. Many adults who have been hesitant or opposed to the COVID-19 vaccine, and even some who did not oppose the vaccine for themselves, are expected to resist giving the shot to their children.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Editing by Nick Zieminski and Philippa Fletcher)

Biden administration asks U.S. Supreme Court to block Texas abortion law

By Andrew Chung and Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden’s administration on Monday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block a Texas law that imposes a near-total ban on abortion, calling the Republican-backed measure plainly unconstitutional and specifically designed to evade judicial scrutiny.

The administration asked the Supreme Court to quickly reverse a decision this month by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to lift a judge’s order blocking the law while litigation over the statute’s legality continues. The justices in a 5-4 Sept. 1 decision let the law take effect in a separate challenge brought by abortion providers in the state.

The Texas measure, one of a series of restrictive abortion laws passed at the state level in recent years, bans the procedure after about six weeks of pregnancy, a point when many women do not yet realize they are pregnant.

The Justice Department, which filed suit last month in a bid to stop the law, told the Supreme Court in a filing that the 5th Circuit’s action enables the ongoing violation by the state of Texas “of this court’s precedents and its citizens’ constitutional rights.”

“Texas’s insistence that no party can bring a suit challenging S.B. 8 amounts to an assertion that the federal courts are powerless to halt the state’s ongoing nullification of federal law. That proposition is as breathtaking as it is dangerous,” the Justice Department added, using the formal name of the Texas law.

The filing also said that “given the importance and urgency of the issues” involved the Supreme Court could decide to take up and hear arguments in the case even before lower courts have issued their own final rulings.

The Texas measure makes an exception for a documented medical emergency but not for cases of rape or incest. It also gives private citizens the power to enforce it by enabling them to sue anyone who performs or assists a woman in getting an abortion after cardiac activity is detected in the fetus. That feature has helped shield the law from being immediately blocked by making it more difficult to directly sue the state.

Under the law, individual citizens can be awarded a minimum of $10,000 for bringing successful lawsuits. Critics have said this provision lets people act as anti-abortion bounty hunters, a characterization its proponents reject.

The Biden administration’s lawsuit argued that the law impedes women from exercising their constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy as recognized in the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. It also argued that the law improperly interferes with the operations of the federal government to provide abortion-related services.

In his Oct. 6 ruling blocking the law, U.S. Judge Robert Pitman found that the measure was likely unconstitutional and designed to avoid judicial scrutiny. Pitman said he would “not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right.”

The Supreme Court has a 6-3 conservative majority. When the Supreme Court allowed the law to take effect, conservative Chief Justice John Roberts dissented along with the three liberal justices, expressing skepticism about how the measure is enforced.

Roberts said he would have blocked the law’s enforcement at that point “so that the courts may consider whether a state can avoid responsibility for its laws in such a manner.”

Supreme Court asked Texas to respond to the Justice Department’s request by midday on Thursday.

The Supreme Court already is set to consider a major abortion case on Dec. 1 in a dispute centering on Mississippi’s law banning abortions starting at 15 weeks of pregnancy, Mississippi has asked the justices to overturn Roe v. Wade. A ruling in the Mississippi case is due by the end of next June.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York and Lawrence Hurley in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham)

Biden administration urges halt to strict Texas abortion law

By Sarah N. Lynch and Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) -President Joe Biden’s administration on Friday urged a judge to block a near-total ban on abortion imposed by Texas – the strictest such law in the nation – in a key moment in the ferocious legal fight over abortion access in the United States.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Sept. 1 allowed the Republican-backed law to take effect even as litigation over its legality continues in lower courts. The U.S. Justice Department eight days later sued in federal court to try to invalidate it.

During a hearing in the Texas capital of Austin, Justice Department lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman to block the law temporarily, saying the state’s Republican legislature and governor enacted it in an open defiance of the Constitution.

“There is no doubt under binding constitutional precedents that a state may not ban abortions at six weeks,” said Brian Netter, the lead Justice Department attorney on the case.

“Texas knew this but, it wanted a 6-week ban anyway. So this state resorted to an unprecedented scheme of vigilante justice.”

The Texas law bans abortions starting at six weeks of pregnancy, a point when many women may not realize they are pregnant. About 85% to 90% of abortions are performed after six weeks. Texas makes no exception for cases of rape and incest.

It also lets ordinary citizens enforce the ban, rewarding them at least $10,000 if they successfully sue anyone who helped provide an abortion after fetal cardiac activity is detected.

Will Thompson, an attorney in the Texas Attorney General’s Office, countered the Justice Department’s arguments, saying there were plenty of opportunities for people in Texas to challenge the law on their own, and claiming the Department’s arguments were filled with “hyperbole and inflammatory rhetoric.”

“This is not some kind of vigilante scheme, as opposing counsel suggests,” said Thompson. “This is a scheme that uses lawful process of justice in Texas.”

Pitman, who was appointed by Democratic former President Barack Obama in 2014, at one point seemed skeptical of Thompson’s arguments, telling him Texas seems to have “gone to great lengths” to make its abortion ban difficult to challenge in court.

The judge said: “My obvious question to you is: If the state is so confident in the constitutionality of the limitations on woman’s access to abortion, then why did it go to such great lengths to create this private cause of action rather than do it directly?”

Thompson responded that laws providing for enforcement are not as unusual as the Justice Department has claimed.

In the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, the Supreme Court recognized a woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

The high court in December is due to hear arguments over the legality of a Mississippi abortion law in a case in which officials from that state are asking the justices to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

The Mississippi and Texas laws are among a series of Republican-backed measures passed by various states restricting abortion.

Since the Texas law went into effect, the four Whole Woman’s Health abortion clinics across the state have reported that patient visits have plummeted and some staff have quit.

In addition to infringing on women’s constitutional rights to seek an abortion, the Justice Department argued that the law also impedes the federal government’s own ability to offer abortion-related services.

In an effort to counter those claims, attorneys for the state on Friday played clips from depositions of various senior U.S. government officials.

In one clip, lawyers interrogated Alix McLearen, a senior official at the Bureau of Prisons who, in response to questions, testified that there were currently no pregnant inmates being held at certain detention facilities in Texas.

In another clip, Laurie Bodenheimer of the Office of Personnel Management was asked whether any insurance carriers had raised concerns about the impact or effect of the Texas law.

“To my knowledge no carrier has raised concerns about SB8,” she said.

The Justice Department’s Netter told the judge that Texas had cherry-picked some of the sound bites in the videos and edited out the portions in which Department attorneys had objected during the depositions.

Netter noted, for instance, that Texas conveniently omitted a portion of McLearen’s testimony in which she said the prisons bureau has pregnant inmates incarcerated currently at FMC Carswell, which he noted is “the only secure medical facility for women” in the entire country.

“It is irreparable injury for there to be a violation of the Supremacy Clause,” Netter said, referring to the Constitutional principle that establishes that federal laws have supremacy over state laws.

More than 600 marches are planned around the United States on Saturday to protest the Texas law.

In Washington, D.C., protesters will march to the U.S. Supreme Court to decry the court’s 5-4 decision in September that denied a request from abortion and women’s health providers to enjoin enforcement of the ban.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe and Sarah N. Lynch in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham, Alistair Bell and Dan Grebler)

Biden administration moves to protect ‘Dreamers’ from deportation

By Daniel Wiessner

(Reuters) – The Biden administration proposed a rule on Monday that would move an estimated 700,000 immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children to the back of the line to be deported, in a bid to preserve an Obama-era program recently struck down by a judge.

The proposal from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would “preserve and fortify” the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program first launched in 2012, the agency said, and ensure that productive young people with few ties to their home countries are not deported.

DACA beneficiaries, known as “Dreamers,” receive work authorization, access to driver’s licenses and better access, for some, to financial aid for education, but not a path to citizenship.

To be eligible for DACA, individuals must have been younger than 16 when they arrived in the United States and continuously resided in the country for five years. They also must have a high-school diploma or the equivalent and have not been convicted of any felonies or other serious crimes.

In a July ruling, a Texas federal judge said DACA was illegally created by former President Barack Obama and blocked DHS from accepting new applications to the program. The Biden administration is appealing that decision.

DHS on Monday said in the meantime, it made sense to focus its limited resources on deporting individuals who knowingly entered the U.S. illegally.

The proposal will be formally published on Tuesday, kicking off a 60-day public comment period.

The proposed rule is particularly important after a bid by U.S. Senate Democrats to insert a path to citizenship for Dreamers in a budget bill hit a roadblock last week, according to Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law at Cornell Law School.

“While Democrats will try to find other ways to provide a path to a green card for Dreamers, the proposed rule could be a temporary safety net for Dreamers if legislation fails,” Yale-Loehr said.

(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in New York; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

U.S. FDA advisers may vote on COVID-19 boosters for older adults after rejecting broad approval

By Manojna Maddipatla and Michael Erman

(Reuters) – A panel of expert outside advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration voted against broadly approving COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, but may vote on a narrower approval for older adults later on Friday.

The panel voted overwhelmingly against approving boosters for Americans age 16 and older, potentially undermining the Biden administration’s plan to roll out third shots of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as soon as next week.

But there was widespread support among panelists for a third dose for older Americans, who are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 and may be more likely to have waning immunity after the first rounds of shots. FDA officials said that a vote to recommend approval for such groups was possible later on Friday.

The FDA will take the panel’s recommendation into consideration in making its decision on the boosters. But it can reject the advice as it did recently in approving Biogen Inc’s controversial Alzheimer’s drug

Many committee members were critical of the booster plan, arguing that the data presented by Pfizer and the FDA was incomplete and that the request for approval for people as young 16 is too broad. Most of them said they were not needed yet for younger adults.

Top FDA members have been split on the necessity of the boosters, with interim head Janet Woodcock backing them and some of the agency’s top scientists arguing they are not needed yet.

If the FDA goes ahead and approves the booster, a separate panel advising the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will meet next week to recommend which groups should get them.

The White House said it was ready to roll out boosters next week if health officials approve the plan.

(Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla and Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru, Mike Erman in New York and Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Caroline Humer and Bill Berkrot)

Biden administration plans tougher action to rein in meat prices

By Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Biden administration plans to take a tougher stance toward meatpacking companies it says are causing sticker shock at grocery stores.

Four companies control much of the U.S. meat processing market, and top aides to President Joe Biden blamed those companies for rising food prices in a blog on Wednesday.

As part of a set of initiatives, the administration will funnel $1.4 billion in COVID-19 pandemic stimulus money to small meat producers and workers, administration aides said in the blog post. They also promised action to “crack down on illegal price fixing,” White House aides said in the blog post.

Four companies slaughtered about 85% of U.S. grain-fattened cattle that are made into steaks, beef roasts and other cuts of meat for consumers in 2018, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The big four processors in the U.S. beef sector are: Cargill, a global commodity trader based in Minnesota; Tyson Foods Inc, the chicken producer that is the biggest U.S. meat company by sales; Brazil-based JBS SA, the world’s biggest meatpacker; and National Beef Packing Co, which is controlled by Brazilian beef producer Marfrig Global Foods SA.

The companies did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Shares of Tyson briefly dipped in higher-volume trade after the Reuters report.

Price increases in beef, pork and poultry have driven half of the increased prices Americans have paid for food they eat at home since December, the White House said. And the administration sees those companies collecting too much profit after the stimulus helped prop up demand for their products.

“We’ve helped sustain this market, and it’s frustrating to see these companies turn around and raise prices,” Bharat Ramamurti, the deputy director of the White House’s National Economic Council, said in an interview. “What we see here smacks of pandemic profiteering and that is the behavior the administration finds concerning.”

Rising inflation has posed a serious threat to Biden’s efforts to get a grip on the COVID-19 pandemic – his top priority as president – and engineer an economic recovery from the recession it caused.

The Biden administration has responded to these issues partly by ramping up efforts to crack down on what it sees as anticompetitive and monopolistic behavior that could be increasing prices. A meeting of a new White House Competition Council created by Biden is set for Friday.

USDA and the Department of Justice have already been conducting an investigation into price-fixing in the chicken-processing industry.

“The goal of that over time is to bring these prices down,” said Ramamurti.

U.S. lawmakers are seeking increased oversight of the beef sector as concerns about anticompetitive behavior increase after the pandemic and a cyberattack on JBS USA.

The administration is “encouraged” by bipartisan legislation that could aid more price negotiation in the meat market, it said in the blog.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington, Additional reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago and Chuck Mikolajczak in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)