DEBORAH AMOS, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Deborah Amos.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And Im Steve Inskeep. Good morning.
A congressional hearing into the Gulf oil spill did not dramatically change our understanding of what happened. It did establish two facts beyond doubt.
AMOS: First, if you're the top executive of BP, lawmakers will not be happy if you decline to answer any questions right now.
INSKEEP: Second, if you're a lawmaker who defends the oil company, you're in trouble.
NPR's Audie Cornish reports from Capitol Hill.
AUDIE CORNISH: BP's CEO Tony Hayward tried playing humble, offering apologies, contrition and earnest claims of sorrow. But none of it got very far with members of the House Energy Committee.
Dr. TONY HAYWARD (CEO, BP America): And one of the reasons that I am so distraught...
Representative HENRY WAXMAN (Democrat, California): Could you answer yes or no?
Dr. HAYWARD: ...is that...
Rep. WAXMAN: I dont want to know whether you're distraught. I want to know whether you think youve kept your commitment.
Dr. HAYWARD: We have focused, like a laser, on safe and reliable operations. That is a fact.
CORNISH: Thats Hayward tangling with California Democrat Henry Waxman. Waxman and others quoted internal BP memos to highlight repeated instances where BP cut costs in bringing the ill-fated Macondo well into production.
Why did BP choose one well design over another, they asked? What kind of mud stirring process was used to prevent gas buildup in the well? Why did the company go against manufacture's advice in changing the blowout preventer that was supposed to stop down on the leak?
And when Hayward had no answers, the committee members had no patience. Congressman Waxman.
Rep. WAXMAN: You're the BP CEO and you said like a laser, you're going to -safety is the biggest issue. And you have people under you making these kinds of decisions. And now you're reviewing them.
Do you disagree with the conclusion that this was riskier to use this particular well lining?
Dr. HAYWARD: Im not prepared to draw conclusions about this accident until such time as the investigation is concluded.
Rep. WAXMAN: Well, this is an investigation.
CORNISH: Hayward refused to discuss engineering or technical decisions made in the days and weeks leading to the explosion, nor would he second guess the decisions that were made.
Dr. HAYWARD: I dont want to be evasive or difficult, but I genuinely believe that until we've understood all of the things that contributed to this accident, it's not easy to say. What I would say is that, if there's evidence that costs were put ahead of safety, I would bothly be deeply disturbed and we would take action.
CORNISH: And while Hayward was contrite, it was actually House Republican Joe Barton of Texas who issued the day's first official apology to BP.
Representative JOE BARTON (Republican, Texas): 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.
CORNISH: Barton, the number one House recipient of oil and gas political donations, said he was ashamed that the White House negotiated a $20 billion claims fund for the Gulf region. But Barton would spend the rest of the day hearing from his Republican colleagues, including party leaders who talked about a vote to strip him of his seniority on the committee.
Soon thereafter, Barton was apologizing for his apology.
Rep. BARTON: If anything I've said this morning has been misconstrued, I want to apologize for that misconstruction.
CORNISH: And later, he would issue a second retraction, saying his use of the word shakedown had been wrong, and apologizing for that, too.
But back at the Hayward barbecue, lawmakers were openly frustrated with the BP CEO. Here's Arkansas Democrat, Mike Ross.
Representative MIKE ROSS (Democrat, Arkansas): It seems as though you're trying to hide something. Sir, it's hard to hide two and a half million gallons of oil, a day, pouring into the Gulf. We want answers. We want you to be honest and open with us. And we want to finally see the kind of transparency that youve been talking about.
CORNISH: At this point, congressional hearings have produced little beyond frustration. Many Democrats want to use the crisis to pass a new national energy policy. But the bill the House passed last year is stalled in the Senate, where Senate Democrats have yet to coalesce around an alternative of their own.
Audie Cornish, NPR News, the Capitol.
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