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Venting at BP

Thursday was not going to be a good day for Tony Hayward. The CEO of BP, whose failed rig continues to spew oil throughout the Gulf of Mexico, had a date with a congressional committee eager to express the anger and frustration of Americans over the nation's worst environmental disaster.

The congressmen indeed proceeded to unload on Hayward, with one notable exception: Texas Republican Joe Barton, who apologized to BP and criticized the Obama administration for its "shakedown" in demanding the oil company establish a $20 billion relief fund for spill victims.

Hayward, who has drawn fire for insensitive remarks since the rig exploded nearly two months ago, was properly contrite in his prepared statement. But his mea culpa counted for little with the committee members intent on venting their indignation.

His inability or unwillingness to delve into the reasons for the disaster and BP's safety policies further rankled the committee members, some of whom accused him of "stonewalling." About the only facet Hayward was willing to venture an opinion on was the failure of the blowout preventer, manufactured by another company, which he said was in need of "a fundamental redesign."

Congressman Barton's apostasy, which deflected the caustic spotlight from BP, caused chagrin among the House GOP leadership. They ordered him to retract his remarks or risk losing his post as senior Republican on the committee. When his response fell short of what the leaders wanted -- he first claimed his statements had been "misconstrued" -- they issued their own statement: "Congressman Barton's statements this morning were wrong."

Barton's blunder was a blatant, untimely reminder of the Republicans' cozy relationship with Big Oil -- he is the recipient of the most congressional campaign donations from oil and gas interests since 1990 -- and their now-muted 2008 battle cry of "drill, baby, drill."


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