During a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) called the $20 billion escrow fund (to pay for Gulf Oil spill damages) that BP has promised to establish a “shakedown” and apologized to BP Tony Hayward.
“I’m speaking totally for myself and I’m not speaking for the Republican Party and 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,” Barton began.
“I think it’s a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown,” he continued, “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 interests 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 that I think sets a terrible precedent for the future.”
“I’m only speaking for myself,” Barton repeated. “I’m not speaking for anybody else, but I apologize. I do not want to live in a country where any time a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong and is subject to some sort of political pressure that is, again, in my words, amounts to a shakedown. So I apologize.”
Barton, who was chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee when the Republicans held a majority in the House and is now its ranking member, is well known for his close ties to the energy industry. According to OpenSecrets.org, over the course of his career Barton’s top industry donor has been the oil and gas industry, for a total of nearly $1.5 million in contributions.
Barton has almost always stuck by his donors. A profile at Texans for Public Justice states, “Barton stuck provisions in the 2003 energy bill to give the Dallas-Fort Worth region more time to flunk clean-air standards. The bill failed because of another Barton-championed provision to shield the petrochemical industry from liability for the carcinogenic gasoline additive MTBE. … Westar Energy got Barton to insert special provisions into 2002 energy legislation to let Westar split off its regulated utility from its heavily indebted other businesses–a split that would facilitate saddling ratepayers with $1 billion Westar’s non-utility debts.”
Barton was also an early global warming skeptic. In July 2005, the Washington Post’s David Ignatius commented, “I can’t remember anything quite as nasty — or as politically skewed — as Rep. Joe Barton’s recent attack on scientists whose views on global warming he doesn’t like.”
Barton had sent letters to three climate change scientists “demanding information about what he claimed were ‘methodological flaws and data errors’ in their studies of global warming.” The bullying tone of these letters was so pronounced that even a fellow Republican who chaired the House Committee on Science cautioned, “My primary concern about your investigation is that its purpose seems to be to intimidate scientists rather than to learn from them, and to substitute Congressional political review for scientific peer review. This would be pernicious.”