WASHINGTON, D.C. --- Members of Congress grilled oil industry executives during a hearing Tuesday, April 1, criticizing them for taking tax subsidies and not investing enough in renewable resources at a time of record gas prices and profits.

"Americans are hoping that the top executives from the five largest oil companies will tell us that these soaring gas prices are just part of some elaborate hoax," said Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. "Unfortunately, it's not a joke."

Markey was addressing executives from Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips.

Markey was among the Democrats who expressed support for eliminating about $18 million in industry tax breaks over a 10-year period, CNNMoney.com reported. "Last year these companies alone made over $123 billion in profit," Markey said. "What is the oil industry doing with all this profit? Unfortunately, it goes as much to financial engineering as to renewable engineering."

The oil executives, however, argued that the tax breaks are essential to encourage domestic oil production and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

"Imposing punitive taxes on American companies will discourage the investments needed to safeguard our energy security," said Stephen Simon, senior vice president of Exxon Mobil Corp. "The pursuit of alternative fuels must not detract from investments in oil and gas."

Congressman John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) expressed support for the tax breaks. "I do not believe that funding renewable energy by taxing current forms of energy serves American customers very well," he said.

The oil executives also argued that prices at the pump would drop lower if Congress would open up more U.S. coastal areas to oil and gas drilling.

"The U.S. government restricts supply to American consumers," Shell Oil Company President John Hofmeister said.

Peter Robertson, vice chairman of Chevron, agreed. "Open up 95 percent of the outer continental shelf that's off limits," he said.

Though the House has tried to repeal the tax breaks previously, their efforts have been derailed by the Senate. President Bush has also said he would veto any such legislation.