In an attempt to head off politicians' talk about taxing the recent high earnings of oil companies, President Bush said last week that the industry should be allowed to reinvest its profits into energy research.

Several plans were floated on the floor of the House and Senate last week, as lawmakers talked about possibilities large and small for a "windfall" tax on oil company profits -- proposals ranged from rolling back billions of dollars in tax breaks for major oil companies, to generating $100 gas-rebate checks for taxpayers.

As part of a broader tax bill, Republicans in the House refused to pass a bill to repeal $5 billion in oil tax breaks, which had already been approved by the Senate.

According to published reports, President Bush told reporters that high gas prices -- upwards of $3 a gallon in much of the country -- should serve as a wakeup call that the country is too dependent on oil. Bush said that energy companies should use the profits to build more natural gas pipelines, expand refineries, engage in environmentally friendly exploration and invest in renewable sources of energy.

Adding fuel to the fire, Chevron Corp. released its first-quarter earnings last week, saying that its profits increased 49 percent, to $4 billion. Along with ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil Corp., the trio of major oil players earned more than $15 billion during the first three months of 2006.

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