Democrats Pounce as Barton Apologizes to BP in Hearing

Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:03pm

House Democrats are pouncing on Rep. Joe Barton, the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, for apologizing to BP officials during a hearing Thursday on the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.

The Texas Republican criticized the White House for pressuring BP to create a $20 billion compensation fund for victims of the oil spill. The Texas Republican said BP was “subject to a shakedown” by the White House, which forced the company to “participate in a $20 billion slush fund.”

“I am ashamed of what happened at the White House yesterday,” Barton said, before the committee started questioning BP CEO Tony Hayward. “I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown — in this case a $20 billion shakedown. With the attorney general of the United States, who is legitimately conducting a criminal investigation and has every right to do so to protect the interest of the American people, participating in what amounts to a $20 billion slush fund that’s unprecedented in our nation’s history, that’s got no legal standing, and which I think sets a terrible precedent for the future.”

In the first of the assaults on Barton and the GOP, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a fact sheet shortly after Barton’s statement, which said in part, “House Republicans continue to side with Big Oil over the needs of the American people.”

But not every Republican during the hearing shared Barton’s sentiments. A number of the panel’s Republican Members criticized BP’s lack of attention to safety but added that there needed to be more scrutiny of the Obama administration’s oversight of offshore drilling.

“I don’t feel apologies are in order,” said Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight Investigations.

The hearing opened Thursday with Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman sharply criticizing Hayward and his subordinates for ignoring the risks on the Deepwater Horizon rig.

The California Democrat said the committee’s review of 30,000 pages of documents from BP, including e-mails from Hayward, found no attention shown to the well dangers.

Waxman said reviews of e-mails and documents from other top corporate executives also found they were not briefed about the drilling activities.

“BP’s corporate complacency is astonishing,” Waxman said.

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), chairman of the investigative subcommittee, said he was concerned that the corporate culture at BP led to its willingness to cut costs and take greater risks.

He also took a swipe at the London-based Hayward for saying at one point that he wanted his life back.

“Mr. Hayward, I’m sure you will get your life back and with a golden parachute back to England,” Stupak said.