- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A House committee has asked Exxon Mobil Corp. for detailed information about a lucrative retirement package given to its former chairman, Lee Raymond, calling it an “exorbitant payout” when motorists are paying $3 a gallon for gasoline.

Mr. Raymond, who recently retired, was given a package of nearly $400 million, including salary, bonus, stock options and a one-year $1 million consulting arrangement.

The request was made as the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to the country’s five biggest oil companies, including Exxon Mobil, seeking detailed information about their spending and investment priorities in light of huge profits in the past year as crude prices jumped to a recent high of more than $75 a barrel.

The relatively small amount invested in increasing refinery capacity “is cause for concern,” said Rep. Joe L. Barton, Texas Republican and committee chairman, who opened a hearing into soaring oil and gasoline prices on Thursday.

In addition to Exxon Mobil, letters went to ConocoPhillips Inc., Chevron Corp., BP America Inc. and Shell Oil Co.

Exxon Mobil spokesmen Russ Roberts said the criticism of the Raymond retirement package is “a distraction” when the discussion “should be focused on the fundamentals of why we have the high prices.” He said the compensation package was approved by an independent board of directors without management input.

Mr. Roberts said Exxon Mobil will provide all the information the House committee is requesting.

In testimony before the House panel, Guy Caruso, head of the government’s Energy Information Administration, said a shortage of excess production capacity worldwide is the primary factor behind tight markets and upward pressure on crude oil prices. “Today, the cushions aren’t available,” he said.

Energy consultant Daniel Yergin added that the sharp run-up in crude prices in the past month stems in large part to concerns about potential supply disruptions because of the nuclear standoff with Iran, which produces 2.5 million barrels a day, and unrest in Nigeria, another major producer.

On Wednesday, the House passed legislation that would impose up to $150 million in penalties for energy companies found guilty of price gouging. With lawmakers eager to show they are doing something in response to soaring gasoline prices and huge oil industry profits, the measure breezed through the House, 389-34.

Price-gouging proposals have been talked about in the Senate, especially among Democrats, but it’s not clear when the issue might be brought up for consideration.

President Bush called a bipartisan group of lawmakers to the White House on Wednesday to discuss what energy measures might gain bipartisan support. All the proposals addressed the long-term energy problems, and not ways to try to reduce this summer’s $3-plus gasoline prices.

“The price of gasoline should serve as a wake-up call … that we’ve got an energy security problem and a national security problem and now is the time to deal with it in a forceful way,” Mr. Bush said after the meeting.

Many lawmakers acknowledged little can be done in the short term.

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