Oil bosses to face Congressional grilling

WASHINGTON -- (CBS/AP) Executives from the big five oil companies will appear before Congress Tuesday to answer questions about how they're raking in big profits while consumers are being hammered at the pump.

Irving-based Exxon Mobil and Houston-based Shell, BP America and Conoco-Phillips joined California-based Chevron in earning a combined 123 billion dollars last year because of rising prices.

Exxon Mobil made a record $40.7 billion last year alone, reports CBS News correspondent Chip Reid.

The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming wants to know why, with such big profits, the oil industry is trying to hold on to $18 billion in tax breaks.

"It's time for them to come to explain to Congress, but more importantly, to the American people what they plan on doing on alleviating this enormous attack upon consumers and upon the American economy, which oil prices represent," committee chair Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., told CBS News' The Early Show.

But the executives are expected to argue that gas prices are so high because crude prices are high and they have no control over that, reports Reid.

The oil companies have argued that they need the tax breaks for continued investment in exploration, production and refinery expansion. Lawmakers say the profits they're making should be enough incentive.

The House has approved legislation to end the tax breaks, but it hasn't made it through the Senate. President Bush has threatened to veto any such bill that does.

This comes as gas prices hit a new record, reports Reid. According to AAA, the average price of unleaded regular comes in at just under $3.29 a gallon. Only a year ago it was $2.67 a gallon, a 25 percent jump.

The higher price of fuel is also sending the price of food higher because it costs more to transport it. In fact, some independent truckers are threatening a one-day strike Tuesday, upset over the soaring price of diesel.

"We have to move beyond this oil economy," Markey told The Early Show. "Exxon only spent $10 million on renewable energy resources last year even as they reported $40 billion worth of profits. We can never get out of this trap as long as the oil companies want to hold us hostage to this old agenda."

"Otherwise," Markey concludes, "consumers are just going to continue to be tipped upside down at the pump and have money shaken out of their pockets every time they go to fill up."

Posted by LS

CBS and Associated Press contributed to this report.