Texas Congressman Joe Barton apologizes to BP for ‘shakedown’

WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 26:  Rep. Joe Barton (R...

Texas Rep. Joe Barton has received $1.5 million from oil companies. Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Updated with Barton’s retraction of apology to BP and a new apology.

Updated with statement from White House calling Barton’s comments “shameful.”

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) apologized to BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward at this morning’s hearing of the House subcommittee investigating BP’s oil-spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Barton focused on a $20 billion claims fund BP had agreed to set aside to cover the costs of commerical and environmental damages from the blowout of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

“I apologize,” Barton said to Hayward as members offered opening comments. “I do not want to live in a country where anytime a citizen or a corporation who does something legitimately wrong is subject to some sort of political pressure that, again, in my words, amounts to a shakedown. So I apologize.”

Barton said he was ashamed of the agreement between BP and the White House, called the $20 billion claims fund a “slush fund” and said due process requires that hearings be held and “in some cases, court cases, litigation” to determine the amount the company should have to pay.

The White House swiftly responded to Barton’s comments with a statement:

What is shameful is that Joe Barton seems to have more concern for big corporations that caused this disaster than the fishermen, small business owners and communities whose lives have been devastated by the destruction. Congressman Barton may think that a fund to compensate these Americans is a ‘tragedy’, but most Americans know that the real tragedy is what the men and women of the Gulf Coast are going through right now. Members from both parties should repudiate his comments.”

BP agreed to set aside the $20 billion fund in negotiations with the Obama Administration, which had pushed BP to set aside sufficient resources to pay for the damages. In establishing the fund, BP canceled a planned first-quarter dividend of $2.6 billion to shareholders and said it may have to sell assets and cut operating costs. The claims fund does not cap BP’s liabilities.

On news of the claims fund, BP’s stock surged almost 10 percent and several analysts upgraded the company to “buy.” One analyst told the Wall Street Journal the fund “will alleviate much of the political pressure that has been building in the U.S.”

“This agreement reaffirms our commitment to do the right thing,” Hayward said yesterday in announcing the fund. “The President made it clear and we agree that our top priority is to contain the spill, clean up the oil and mitigate the damage to the Gulf coast community.”

Barton also criticized the hearing itself, suggesting it interferes with the Attorney General’s criminal investigation of the incident, but at the end of his remarks said, “I am with this committee…. We don’t want another oil spill of this magnitude.”

Barton has been the recipient of $1,448,380 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry since 1989, according to opensecrets.org. His leading contributor has been Anadarko Petroleum Company, which owns a 25 percent interest in the Deepwater Horizon lease (BP owns 65 percent of the lease, and a Louisiana company, Moex, owns the remaining 10 percent).

This afternoon, the House Republican leadership distribute this statement from Rep. Barton:

I apologize for using the term ‘shakedown’ with regard to yesterday’s actions at the White House in my opening statement this morning, and I retract my apology to BP. As I told my colleagues yesterday and said again this morning, BP should bear the full financial responsibility for the accident on their lease in the Gulf of Mexico. BP should fully compensate those families and businesses that have been hurt by this accident.”
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