Houston Chronicle: Congress wants to query oil executives: “Among executives who may be questioned at a Senate hearing are Lee Raymond, chairman of Irving-based Exxon Mobil Corp.; Jim Mulva, chief executive of ConocoPhillips in Houston; and John Hofmeister, president of the U.S. unit of Royal Dutch Shell, congressional and industry officials said.”: Wednesday November 2, 2005, 12:58AM
Senators hope industry rebates some profit to poor
By H. JOSEF HEBERT
WASHINGTON - Top executives of three major oil companies will be asked by senators next week why some of their industry's estimated $96 billion in record profits this year shouldn't be used to help people having trouble paying their energy bills.
Among executives who may be questioned at a Senate hearing are Lee Raymond, chairman of Irving-based Exxon Mobil Corp.; Jim Mulva, chief executive of ConocoPhillips in Houston; and John Hofmeister, president of the U.S. unit of Royal Dutch Shell, congressional and industry officials said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because a final list of witnesses has not been completed. Exxon, Conoco and Shell together earned more than $22 billion during the July-September quarter this year when oil prices briefly soared to $70 a barrel and motorists were paying over $3 a gallon for gas.
Concern is growing
There is growing distress in Congress about the huge profits reported by oil companies.
Chevron Chief Executive Officer Dave O'Reilly was not on the shortlist being mentioned. "It's the committees' decision as to who they want to testify," Chevron spokesman Don Campbell said. "And should we be asked, we'd be happy to participate."
A ConocoPhillips spokesman declined to comment about whether Mulva will appear.
Exxon Mobil spokesman Dave Gardner declined to comment, citing security protocols regarding travel plans for senior executives. Shell spokeswoman Darci Sinclair could not confirm whether Hofmeister would be at the hearing.
On Tuesday, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Finance Committee, said oil companies "should do their part" and donate some of their third-quarter earnings to low-income families and senior citizens having trouble paying energy bills, including high heating bills this winter. Grassley cited industry analysts as estimating that the 29 major oil and gas companies are expected to earn $96 billion this year.
Responsibility to others
"You have a responsibility to help less fortunate Americans cope with the high cost of heating fuels," Grassley, whose committee deals with tax legislation, wrote in a letter to the chief of the American Petroleum Institute, the industry's lobbying arm. He also said companies should invest more of their profits in exploration and production and refining capacity to increase supplies.
Earlier in the day, Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Chris Dodd, D-Conn., renewed their call for passage of a windfall profits tax on oil companies. They hoped to put such a proposal — a 50 percent tax on the sale of oil over $40 a barrel — into a tax bill later this month, they said. The revenue would be given to consumers in form of an income tax rebate.
The Bush administration also has discussed internally a possible proposal to link funding of the federal low-income energy assistance program to oil industry profits. But Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said he remains opposed to a windfall profits tax, arguing it was a failure in the 1980s and would be counterproductive.
Chronicle reporter David Ivanovich contributed to this story.
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