Thursday May 12, 2011 | 04:40 PM

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said at today’s Senate Finance Committee hearing scrutinizing oil company tax breaks that she wants to know more about whether those tax breaks are good for consumers or just for oil company profits.

“Since 2005, the price of oil increased 87 percent while our deficits have increased four-fold. In contrast, oil company profits have remained roughly constant every year since 2005,” said Snowe, a finance committee member, in a statement following the hearing, which featured the appearance by five major oil company executives. “This raises the fundamental question about where are the results of these tax policies – are they assisting Americans with affordable supplies of energy or are they assisting companies increase corporate profits?”

Snowe said at the hearing that lawmakers and President Obama should review the tax breaks and other energy policies as part of a “comprehensive energy policy.” Snowe said it is a “travesty” that stretching back for a number of Congresses and presidential administrations there has been a failure to develop a comprehensive national energy policy.

Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd, said after the Senate hearing that there is no need to wait, that the time is now to end subsidies to major oil companies, breaks he said cost taxpayers $31 billion over ten years, compared to $36 billion in profits for the five largest oil companies during the first part of this year.

 “While Mainers continue to face record gas prices, the last thing we should be doing is giving away their tax dollars to the major oil companies,” Michaud said in a statement. “It’s long past time to end this unneeded subsidy and use the savings to pay down our record debt. At the same time, Congress must act on measures that will actually lower the price of gas. We need to once and for all crack down on energy speculation and price gouging. We must also be prepared to responsibly release oil from our strategic reserves to increase supplies as prices spike.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Susan Collins said today that she has signed on to a bipartisan letter calling on federal regulators to use their authority to investigate and rein “excessive Wall Street speculation” in crude oil future and other energy commodities that is leading to artificially high prices. 

"Excessive speculation on energy markets is just one of many issues we must address to deal with the high cost of oil and gas," Collins said in a statement.  "While families are paying more for home heating oil and gasoline, and businesses face failure from high energy costs, there is compelling evidence that speculators are playing a significant role in these sky-high prices and I urge the CFTC (U.S. Commodities Futures Trading Commission)  to implement overdue rules to rein in excessive speculation starting with the oil futures market."

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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