By Chris Baltimore
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Five U.S. oil company executives appeared on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to explain why they were not to blame for record-high gasoline pump prices even as they reported $123 billion in profits in 2007.
U.S. average pump prices have risen steadily since the beginning of 2008 and on Monday hit a new record of $3.29 a gallon, heaping yet more pressure on a U.S. economy beleaguered by an imploding housing market and recession fears.
Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, a long-time oil industry critic and chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, called the hearing entitled "Drilling for Answers: Oil Company Profits, Runaway Prices and the Pursuit of Alternatives."
Markey supports legislation that would strip about $18 billion in tax breaks from the five biggest U.S. oil companies and put them toward planet-friendly energy alternatives like wind and solar. Such legislation has passed the House of Representatives twice, but has stalled in the Senate.
"The American people deserve answers and it is time for Big Oil to go on the record about these record prices," Markey said.
Executives from Exxon Mobil Corp
"Given that the largest contributor to the cost of gasoline is crude oil, this has translated into record-high gasoline prices," Peter Robertson, vice chairman of Chevron, the second-biggest U.S. oil company behind Exxon, said in testimony.
Stephen Simon, senior vice president of Exxon Mobil, said punitive measures against U.S. oil companies would only strain supplies further.
"Imposing punitive taxes on American energy companies ... will discourage the sustained investments needed to continue safeguarding U.S. energy security," Simon said in testimony.
(Reporting by Chris Baltimore; editing by Jim Marshall)