- Associated Press - Thursday, June 17, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — BP’s humbled CEO Tony Hayward sat grim-faced Thursday as a House chairman accused him of being oblivious to the risks of the company’s deep water operations, then told Congress he was “deeply sorry” for his company’s catastrophic oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, told the BP executive that in his committee’s review of 30,000 items, there was “not a single e-mail or document that you paid even the slightest attention to the dangers at this well.”

A day after agreeing to a $20 billion victims’ compensation fund, Mr. Hayward told Congress he was “personally devastated” by the April explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that triggered the giant spill — and that he understands the anger that Americans feel toward him and his company.

Before his testimony, Mr. Hayward was buffeted by scathing criticism from lawmakers from both parties.

Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the senior Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said he agreed with the call of Democrats on the panel for answers. But Mr. Barton accused the White House of conducting a “$20 billion shakedown” by requiring oil giant BP to establish a fund to compensate those hurt by the Gulf Coast oil spill.

“I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House” on Wednesday, Mr. Barton said.

But Rep. Ed Markey disagreed, saying it was “not a slush fund, not a shakedown. … It was the government of the United States working to protect the most vulnerable citizens that we have in our country right now, the residents of the Gulf.”

“It’s BP’s spill,” the Massachusetts Democrat said, “but it is America’s ocean, and it is America’s citizens who are being harmed. … No, this is not a shakedown of the company.”

Rep. Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican, said that BP “appears to have taken their eye off the ball.”

Some of the sharpest criticism came from Rep. Bart Stupak, Michigan Democrat. “We are not small people. But we wish to get our lives back,” he told Mr. Hayward. “I’m sure you’ll get your life back, and with a golden parachute to England.”

It was a reference to Mr. Hayward’s much-criticized earlier remark that some day he hoped to get “my life back” and to comments on the White House driveway on Wednesday by BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg that “we care about the small people” of the Gulf Coast.

Mr. Hayward received $4.7 million in 2009 in total salary, performance bonus and other non-cash compensation, roughly 27 percent higher than the $3.7 million he received a year earlier, according to an AP review of filings available on BP’s Web site.

Mr. Hayward sipped a beverage and jotted notes as one lawmaker after another scorched him.

A group of protesters milled in the hallway outside the hearing room, including Diane Wilson, 61, a fourth-generation fisher from Seadrift, Texas, near the Gulf Coast. Ms. Wilson, appearing with a black-stained hand, said she wanted to send a message: “Hayward should go to jail.”

She was joined by Ann Wright, 63, of Honolulu, Hawaii, who wore a BP hard hat, overalls and sunglasses adorned with dollar signs.

“BP doesn’t really care about this,” she said, pulling out an oil-stained rubber ducky.

Mr. Waxman opened the hearing with rare praise for the oil giant. “Yesterday, BP pledged to establish a $20 billion escrow account and to suspend its dividend payments for the rest of the year. I’m sure these were not easy decisions for you, but they were the right ones, and I commend you for them,” he told the embattled CEO.

But then the gloves came off. “When you became CEO of BP, you promised to focus like a laser on safe and reliable operations,” Mr. Waxman said. “We wanted to know what you had done to keep this promise.”

“We could find no evidence that you paid any attention to the tremendous risks BP was taking. We’ve reviewed 30,000 pages of documents from BP, including your e-mails. There is not a single e- mail or document that shows you paid even the slightest attention to the dangers at this well.”

Mr. Waxman asserted that Mr. Hayward and his top deputies “were apparently oblivious to what was happening” and had been ignoring danger signs on the well in the days before it exploded.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, told Mr. Hayward “BP has not learned from previous mistakes.”

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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