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How did BP CEO fare before committee?

BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward testifies before the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee during a hearing on "The Role Of BP In The Deepwater Horizon Explosion And Oil Spill" in Washington, D.C.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Bob Moon: No sooner had BP chief Tony Hayward tried to open his mouth at a hearing on Capitol Hill today, when a protester shouted him down.

Protester: ...You need to be charged with a crime! You need to go to jail...

It was a rocky start to a rough day for BP's top executive, even as subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak moved quickly to hush the outburst.

Rep. Bart Stupak: We have a hearing to conduct here, we're going to conduct our hearing. It's going to be done with proper decorum.

That didn't stop lawmakers from kicking off the hearing with more than an hour of criticism -- with proper decorum, of course -- before Hayward got his turn to talk. He declared that he was "deeply sorry" for the spill that's been gushing for more than eight weeks.

For a review of today's hearing, let's turn to our D.C. bureau chief John Dimsdale. Hi, John.

John Dimsdale: Hey Bob.

Moon: So, who do you think Hayward fared in front of the committee?

Dimsdale: Well, he was contrite and sorrowful and took responsibility. But he deflected all the questions about those decisions to cut corners and save money, that everybody says led to the explosion. He said he didn't know anything about what was happening at the well before the blow out, and won't know until a company investigation is complete. Here's a sample of his answers to Michigan Congressman John Dingell:

Tony Hayward at the hearing: I was not involved in that decision. So it's impossible for me to answer that question.

Rep. John DingellAll right. Could you tell us how much money BP saved by not using the proper number of centralizers?

Hayward: I'm afraid I can't recall that.

Dingell: How much time was saved?

Hayward: And I don't recall that either, I'm afraid.

Moon: Hmm. So he knew the questions beforehand from a letter from the committee. Why wouldn't he answer?

Dimsdale: Well, remember, his testimony is under oath. And he'd obviously been told by the lawyers, don't make the company any more legally liable for fines or other regulatory punishments then we already are in. Committee members repeatedly said they're exasperated that the head of the company, the CEO, kept claiming he didn't know, especially since he's been in the business for 28 years. He came up through the engineering and scientific side. He was totally unflappable.

But you know, it doesn't sound like he's planning to be there long. Here he is talking to subcommittee Chairman Stupak:

Stupak: You expect to be CEO of BP much longer?

Hayward: At the moment, I'm focused on the response.

Moon: You know, his answers seemed to particularly bother the man leading the congressional investigation, committee Chairman Henry Waxman of California. He seemed to draw larger conclusion from BP's actions, John.

Rep. Henry Waxman: We learned earlier this week that the other oil companies are just as unprepared to deal with a massive spill as BP. We are seeing in the oil industry the same corporate indifference to risk that caused the collapse on Wall Street.

Moon: Which leads me to wonder, does Rep. Waxman have an agenda here with this investigation?

Dimsdale: Well, he sounds like he's making a case for stronger regulations. He's also a strong supporter of an energy and climate change bill that would tax carbon or put a higher price on it, and bring down greenhouse emissions. So, there's a sense among progressive Democrats in Congress that this spill is a disaster that could move the country along in that direction.

Moon: Early in today's hearing, there was a remarkable moment when Mr. Waxman's counterparts on the Republican side of the committee, Joe Barton of Texas, dropped a bombshell accusation against the president, who negotiated that $20 billion restitution fund with BP just yesterday.

Rep. Joe Barton: 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.

Moon: Who is Joe Barton speaking to with that accusation, John?

Dimsdale: Well, Joe Barton has long been a champion of the oil industry. Critics point out that he's taken over $1 million in campaign funds from oil companies. And later in the day, he did clarify that he believed BP is responsible for the spill and the clean up. But he knows his district depends on the industry, and he's concerned that BP isn't being given due process and may not survive as a viable company. And you know, the White House came back later in the day and said, it's a shame that congressman is supporting the oil industry and not the people in the Gulf who've been hurt by this spill.

Moon: Marketplace's John Dimsdale, our Washington bureau chief. Thank you.

Dimsdale: Thanks Bob.

About the author

As head of Marketplace’s Washington, D.C. bureau, John Dimsdale provides insightful commentary on the intersection of government and money for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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