WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Another Republican lawmaker urged the oil industry on Friday to donate some of its record profits to help poor American families pay winter heating bills, a proposal the Bush administration has rejected as too much like a tax.
A growing number of Republicans in Congress fear a backlash when consumers start receiving sharply higher bills for heating oil and natural gas to heat their homes. Next Wednesday, top executives of Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips and Royal Dutch Shell Plc's American unit -- which together earned more than $21 billion in quarterly profits -- will testify at a Senate hearing on energy prices.
Rep. Lee Terry, a Nebraska Republican who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said oil companies should donate some of their profits to help poor Americans. The White House should help create a voluntary program to funnel oil company contributions to programs run by local utilities that assist families with winter heating bills, Terry said.
``By creating a voluntary program, companies who are enjoying record profits can help those who need assistance with rising energy costs,'' he said.
Terry sent a letter to the Energy Department and 10 large oil companies, asking them to work together to develop a plan.
``Voluntary contribution amounts could be made public through a simple reporting procedure,'' Terry said in his letter. ``A privately administered program with a direct relationship with utility companies is the best solution.''
Energy Secretary Sam Bodman said earlier this week he opposes mandatory donations from oil companies to fund the federal Low Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP). ``I wouldn't support it. It is too similar to a tax,'' he told reporters.
Instead, the White House is analyzing various policy options such as creating emergency stockpiles of natural gas and refined products, Bodman said. It was unclear how soon the Bush administration would announce any energy plans.
Natural gas heating costs in the Midwest are forecast to soar by 61 percent this winter, while the Northeast will see heating oil expenditures rise 30 percent from last year.
Congress funded the LIHEAP program $2.2 billion last year to help impoverished Americans pay for their utility bills. Democrats say the program must be doubled so families aren't forced to choose between food or heat this winter.
Terry said he sent his letter to the three companies
scheduled to testify next week, as well as BP, Chevron Corp.,
Devon Energy, Anadarko, Kerr McGee, EnCana and
Terry is the latest in a series of Republican lawmakers who have expressed unease about record oil profits.
Judd Gregg, Republican chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, recently suggested a windfall profits tax on oil companies may help the poor pay their heating bills.
Republican Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, asked oil companies to donate 10 percent of their earnings to help fund LIHEAP. Grassley said he wrote to large oil companies as a way to ``embarrass'' them into contributing to the program.
A similar request was made last week by a group of Senate Democrats, who say Congress handed the energy industry billions of dollars in tax breaks and incentives in a broad energy law passed earlier this year. Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee recently blocked a Republican plan to offer more federal help for expanding oil refineries.
Some Democrats are calling for tougher action by imposing a windfall profits tax on oil companies.
The Bush administration opposes that idea.