Yesterday, as I described during my live coverage of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s questioning of BP CEO Tony Hayward, Rep. Joe Barton, from oil industry haven Texas, apologized to BP for the “shakedown” that the company faced from the White House:
“I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) during a hearing on Thursday morning with BP’s CEO Tony Hayward.” I think it is a tragedy in 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 American people, participating in what amounts to a $20 billion slush fund that’s unprecedented in our nation’s history, which has no legal standing, which I think sets a terrible precedent for our nation’s future. I’m only speaking for myself. I’m not speaking for anyone else, but I apologize,” Barton added. “I do not want to live in a county where anytime a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong, [it is] subject to some sort of political pressure that, again, in my words, amounts to a shakedown.”
Rep. Barton did not agree with the $20 Billion escrow account, which Tony Hayward agreed to with President Obama, and would ensure that money is available to pay “all legitimate claims.” Well, Rep. Barton apparently hoped that BP would be able to use their army of lawyers to fend off legal challenges, like two other notable companies: Exxon Mobil and Dow Chemical.
25 years after a plume of fatal toxic gas escaped from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, and killed thousands of sleeping Indians instantly, and tens of thousands later, eight former executives were finally found guilty and sentences to two years in prison and a fine of about $2100, only last week. In 1989, Union Carbide, which was later purchased by Dow, paid only a $470 Million settlement, which provided only $550 per victim. Additionally, Dow is not taking responsibility for cleaning up the site. In fact former Union Carbide officials still refuse to take responsibility for the leak, blaming it on sabotage.
In the other case, Exxon was required to pay only $500 million, from what was once a $5 Billion punitive award, after a nearly 20 year legal saga. BP can fight this battle much longer than any Louisiana fisherman. The $20 Billion escrow fund is an act of good faith on the part of BP. For Rep. Barton to insist that is it a “shakedown” is to say that the Dows and the Exxons of the world should be able to avoid accepting the consequences of their actions.
Apparently Barton, after being condemned by fellow Republicans, retracted his apology. However, many conservatives do support Barton, and object to the escrow account. It is a mystery how one could side with BP on this case, with clear evidence of their liability. Ultimately, a huge company like BP has more power than most modern States. Even in the United States, companies like BP can capture the regulators and ensure favorable legislation through their financial support. In that environment, how can conservatives claim that the power of mega-corporations should go unchecked? How on Earth could Barton side with BP, when we now know all the cost-cutting that led to the disaster on the Deepwater Horizon and in the Gulf of Mexico?