The apology heard ’round the world.

Republican Rep. Joe Barton apologized to BP yesterday.

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?

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Live coverage of Energy and Commerce Questioning of BP CEO Tony Hayward

Rep. Henry Waxman chairs the committee grilling BP CEO Tony Hayward

Here is live video of the hearing.

Rep. Henry Waxman expressed his exasperation in his opening statement:

“BP repeatedly took shortcuts that cost lives and increased the risk of catastrophic blowouts… There is not a single e-mail that indicates that you understood the danger… We are seeing in the oil industry the same corporate indifference to risk that we saw in the collapse on Wall Street.”

Rep. Bart Stupak scores this zinger:

“You owe it to all Americans, we are not small people, but we deserve to get out lives back… Mr. Hayward, I am sure that you will get your life back, with a golden parachute to boot.“

Republican Rep. Joe Barton called the $20 Billion compensation fund a “slush fund” and a “shakedown.”  I suppose he trusts BP to settle quickly, unlike Exxon, which only recently finished its legal case on the Exxon Valdez spill, and paid limited settlements.  I suppose he forgets that Dow Chemical only recently completed its legal settlement after the 1984 Bophal catastrophe, where approximately 15,000 Indian people died after a chemical leak.

Rep. Mike Ross, Democrat of Arkansas, pointed out the obvious: “Mr. Hayward, since this hearing began one hour ago, 112,846 gallons have spilled into the Gulf… It seems apparent that BP put profit before safety.”

Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont artfully described the numerous accidents and safety failures that BP operations produced in the last decade, and concluded: “We’ve heard time and time again from BP that this is an aberration… for BP, regrettably this is business as usual.  This is déjà vu, again, and again, and again.”

The opening statements are over, and Tony Hayward already is slumped. Now he is ready to testify. After Mr. Hayward was sworn in, and was about to begin his opening statement, a woman in the back screamed that Mr. Hayward needed to go to jail.

Tony Hayward’s opened with this: “The explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon and the resulting oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico never should  have happened, and I am deeply sorry that it did.  When I learned that 11 men lost their lives, I was personally devastated. Three weeks ago I attended a memorial service for those men, and it was a shattering moment… I can only begin to imagine their [friends and families’] sorrow.”

I understand how serious the situation is.  It is a tragedy.  I want to speak directly to the people who live and work in the Gulf region.  I know that this incident has had a profound impact on your lives, and caused great turmoil and I deeply regret that.  I also deeply reget the impact the spill has had on the environment, the wildlife, and the ecosystem of the Gulf.  I want to acknowledge the questions that you and the public are rightly asking.  How could this happen?  How damaging is the spill to the environment? Why is it taking so long to stop the flow of oil and gas into the Gulf?  We don’t yet have all the answers to these important questions.  But I hear and understand the concerns, frustrations, and anger being voiced across the country, and I know that these sentiments will continue until the leak is stopped and until we prove through our actions that we are doing the right thing.”

Well, Tony Hayward and BP may not have all the answers, but the House committee will try to get them.

Tony continues: “I’ve been to the Gulf Coast.  I’ve met with fishermen, business owners, and families.  I understand what they are going through, and I promise them as I am promising you, that we will make this right. After yesterday’s announcement (of the $20 Billion fund) I hope that they feel we’re on the right track.  I’m here today because I have a responsibility to the American people to do my best to explain what BP has done, is doing, and will do in the future to respond to this terrible accident.”

Tony Hayward certainly claims to understand everyone’s troubles.  It reminds me of Bill Clinton, he used that language a lot.

“To sum up, I understand the seriousness of the situation, and the concerns frustrations and fears that have been and will continue to be voiced.  I know that only actions and results, not mere words, ultimately can give you the confidence you seek.  I give my pledge as the leader of BP that we will not rest until we make this right.  We’re a strong company, and no resources will be spared.  We, and the entire industry will learn from this event, and emergy stronger, smarter, and safer.”

OK, I give in, Tony Hayward really understands.  While stock prices rose yesterday after the establishment of the $20 Billion fund, I am not sure BP is, or will remain a strong company.  Words may not hurt Tony Hayward, and words will not give confidence, but Tony will be under fire shortly, and will have to provide some tough answers.

Mr. Hayward is tapdancing early.  He was asked the following questions by Rep. Stupak, which is gave the identical non-answer:

Should there be a ban on companies with miserable safety records drilling off our coast? … Who are we going to hold accountable?  … Do you expect to be CEO of BP much longer?

Tony’s response to all: “Since I’ve become CEO, safe reliable operations have been our first priority.”

Rep. Michael Burgess, (R-TX) is, like his colleague Joe Barton, most concerned with the $20 Billion fund, and not the CEO right in front of him.

Rep. Waxman asked if BP made a fundamental mistake in the selection of the casing?  Tony responded: “I wasn’t involved in that decision.”  Tony is not taking responsibility for the decisions and actions of his company.

Rep. Waxman and Tony Hayward had this remarkable interchange:

Rep Waxman: “Don’t you feel any sense of responsibility for these decisions?

Tony Hayward: “I feel a great sense of responsibility for this accident.”

Rep. Waxman: “What about the decisions?”

Tony Hayward: “I can’t pass judgement on those decisions.”