Lawmakers accused BP CEO Tony Hayward of stonewalling on Thursday after hours of tough questioning about the oil spill his company caused that has spiraled into the worst environmental disaster in US history. Hayward was testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In seven hours of hearings, he faced a barrage of questions about BP’s cost-cutting measures and how early he was informed about problems with the well that exploded sixty days ago, on April 20th. We play excerpts. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, to BP. Lawmakers accused BP CEO Tony Hayward of stonewalling on Thursday after hours of tough questioning about the oil spill his company caused that has spiraled into the worst environmental disaster in US history.
Hayward was testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In seven hours of hearings, he faced a barrage of questions about BP’s cost-cutting measures and how early he was informed about problems with the well that blew sixty days ago, on April 20th. Hayward repeatedly denied any personal responsibility for the decisions that led to the explosion of the well, the sinking of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig, the deaths of eleven workers, and the ongoing environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. His appearance before Congress was his first since the explosion.
Several lawmakers said they were frustrated by his answers and accused him of being evasive. Under harsh questioning, Hayward urged them to await the outcome of an investigation into the spill. Georgia Republican Phil Gingrey grilled him on the issue.
TONY HAYWARD: There are clearly some issues that our investigation has identified. And when the investigation is complete, we will draw the right conclusions. If there is at any point —
REP. PHIL GINGREY: Well, with all due respect, you’ve had fifty-nine days, and you’re not exactly moving with fever pitch here. Do you believe BP was drilling the well following the best safety practices you were focused on reinvigorating when you were promoted to the position of CEO a couple years ago?
TONY HAYWARD: I have no reason to conclude that wasn’t the case. If I found at any point that anyone in BP put cost ahead of safety, I would take action.
JUAN GONZALEZ: While Tony Hayward faced tough questions from Republicans and Democrats alike, one lawmaker actually issued an apology to BP. Texas Republican Joe Barton said President Obama’s demand for a $20 billion compensation fund amounted to a "shakedown" of the oil giant.
REP. JOE BARTON: I’m speaking now totally for myself. I’m not speaking for the Republican Party. I’m not speaking for anybody in the House of Representatives but myself. But I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. 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.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Barton came under swift denunciation from the White House and was forced to retract his remarks hours later under pressure from fellow Republicans. At the hearing, Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley challenged Barton and asked Tony Hayward if he considered the $20 billion compensation fund a slush fund.
REP. BRUCE BRALEY: Did you consider this compensation fund for people who had lost their lives, lost their businesses, lost their environment, lost their ability to earn — did you consider that to be a slush fund?
TONY HAYWARD: As we said yesterday, the fund is a signal of our commitment to do right, to ensure that individuals, fishermen, charter boat captains, small hotel owners, everyone who’s been impacted by this, is kept whole. That is what I have said from the very beginning of this, and that is what we intend to do. And as I said in my testimony, I hope people will now take — see that we are good for our word.
REP. BRUCE BRALEY: And can we take that as a "no" in response to my question, sir, that you did not consider this to be a slush fund?
TONY HAYWARD: I certainly didn’t think it was a slush fund.
AMY GOODMAN: Even when grilled by Florida Republican Cliff Stearns, BP CEO Tony Hayward denied the spill was a result of reckless behavior, but acknowledged no one at BP has been fired following the explosion.
REP. CLIFF STEARNS: The people of Florida, when I talk to them and they say there’s oil spilling on the coast, would it be appropriate to say that it’s because of BP’s reckless behavior? Yes or no?
TONY HAYWARD: It is a consequence of a big accident.
REP. CLIFF STEARNS: No, yes or no? Reckless behavior or not?
TONY HAYWARD: There is no evidence of reckless behavior.
REP. CLIFF STEARNS: So, you’re standing here, you’re saying here today that BP had no reckless behavior? That’s your position. Yes?
TONY HAYWARD: There is no evidence of reckless behavior.
REP. CLIFF STEARNS: No, yes or no? You’re saying BP has had no reckless behavior, is what you’re saying to us.
TONY HAYWARD: I have seen no evidence of reckless behavior.
REP. CLIFF STEARNS: OK. So you’re on record saying there’s been no reckless behavior. Has anyone in BP been fired because of this incident? Anybody?
TONY HAYWARD: Not —
REP. CLIFF STEARNS: Yes or no?
TONY HAYWARD: No, so far.
REP. CLIFF STEARNS: No people have been fired. So, your captain of the ship runs into New Orleans, spews all this oil, causes all this damage, from Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, and no one’s been fired?
TONY HAYWARD: Our investigation is ongoing.
REP. CLIFF STEARNS: So, let’s say the investigation goes for three years. Does that mean you wouldn’t fire anybody?
TONY HAYWARD: As the investigation draws conclusions, we will take the necessary action.
AMY GOODMAN: And New York Democrat Eliot Engel asked Hayward about BP’s other wells in the Gulf of Mexico.
REP. ELIOT ENGEL: How many other wells has BP in the Gulf?
TONY HAYWARD: I don’t know the precise number, but it’s a large number.
REP. ELIOT ENGEL: Well, give me a ballpark figure.
TONY HAYWARD: In the order of hundreds.
REP. ELIOT ENGEL: OK. How can we be assured that the same thing won’t happen with one of the other wells? How can you give us assurances that what happened with this well won’t happen again to several hundred wells?
TONY HAYWARD: The other wells that I’m referring to have all been drilled and completed and are secure.
REP. ELIOT ENGEL: So you are saying that in all the other wells that BP has, something that happened to this well could never happen again in any of those other wells?
TONY HAYWARD: All of the other wells that I’m referring to are wells that have been completed and are secure.
REP. ELIOT ENGEL: So, is that the same assurance that you had said that you were going to, with a laser, make safety a priority? Is this the same kind of assurance that you’re giving us now?
TONY HAYWARD: I have, throughout my tenure, been very explicit about the priority of safety in BP. It is the first word I utter every time I talk to any group of people in BP, the fact that safe and reliable operations is our number one priority. And we have made very significant changes to our processes, to our people, and invested very significantly into the integrity of our plant and equipment over the last three or four years.
REP. ELIOT ENGEL: Mr. Hayward, let me just say, with all due respect, I, like everyone else here and everyone else in America, is thoroughly disgusted. I think you’re stalling. I think you’re insulting our intelligence. And I really resent it.
AMY GOODMAN: New York Democrat Eliot Engel questioning BP CEO Tony Hayward on Capitol Hill Thursday. For more on BP, we’ll be joined by Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen and Robert Reich, the former Labor Secretary. He’s joining us from Berkeley after this.