At 9:30 a.m. on a warm day in March, eight men and two women stepped off Pennsylvania Avenue and into the northwest gate of the White House. They were top-level refining executives from the world's largest oil companies escorted by Jack Gerard, the brash president of the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry's top lobby. Ushered into the West Wing, they met Valerie Jarrett, a longtime confidante of President Obama and White House power player. In the weeks before the meeting, EPA was advancing toward the White House new restrictions on the amount of sulfur in gasoline. But since that meeting with Jarrett, best known as Obama's "first friend," the sulfur rules have stalled in bureaucratic limbo while environmentalists have stewed.