Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Democrats slam Big Oil over $3 gasoline prices

Democrats slam Big Oil over $3 gasoline prices
By Tom Doggett

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate's top Democrat on Tuesday accused big oil companies of shutting down refineries temporarily to raise gasoline prices and rake in"obscene profits."

Gasoline prices have topped $3 a gallon at service stations across the country because several oil refineries are offline due to maintenance or accidents, reducing gasoline production and making fuel supplies tight.

"It's outrageous ...Isn't it interesting every year about this time, a refinery goes down for repairs," said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

"Is that coincidental? Or is it part of a plan that these multinational, huge companies who are making obscene profits in the tens of billions of dollars -- is this part of their game to keep the profits going?" Reid said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday announced seven congressional hearings in coming weeks on soaring energy prices and plans to put together a proposed package of energy bills by July 4 to address the issue.

"With Memorial Day travel and the start of summer driving only a few weeks away, drivers are paying a heavy price for the Bush administration's failure to enact a comprehensive energy strategy," said Pelosi.

"Years of Bush administration policies that have favored Big Oil over the consumers have resulted in record dependence on foreign oil," the California Democrat added.

The Energy Department's forecasting arm warned on Tuesday that gasoline inventories would remain low throughout the summer, putting upward pressure on fuel prices.

"The gas prices that we see across the country today are, for lack of a better description, awful," said Reid, who wants to roll together three bipartisan bills already approved by Senate committees that deal with energy problems.

The bills would cut future U.S. gasoline demand and improve the fuel economy of cars and trucks.

Pelosi said House committees will seek ways to combat gasoline price gouging and develop clean alternative fuels. They also will examine the broad economic impact of foreign oil dependence and look at technology to boost energy efficiency.

Pelosi said the coming energy package would provide economic incentives to develop and use clean alternative fuels. It also will encourage innovation to create new jobs and help small businesses and enhance technology-driven efficiency.

Republicans criticized Democrats for promising relief while not doing much to tackle high energy costs.

House Republican Leader John Boehner said Democrats have opposed "common sense energy solutions" such as blocking legislation to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.