A year ago today, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), who has received $1.5 million in career campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, faced public outrage when he apologized to BP – who only two months earlier had been responsible for the worst environmental disaster in US history. The Deepwater Horizon tragedy was still spewing millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and devastated local economies, yet Barton found it necessary to extend a personal apology to the oil giant:
I am ashamed of what happened at the White House yesterday. I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation would be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown – in this case a $20 billion dollar shakedown…So I’m only speaking for myself, I’m not speaking for anybody else. But I apologize.
Watch it again:
While Republicans distanced themselves from the comments at the time, GOP treatment of the oil industry since the disaster in the Gulf has been reminiscent of an amnesiac. A year after the spill, the New Orleans’ Times Picayune reported that Congress has failed to act:
A year after the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Congress has done virtually nothing to address the issues raised by the oil spill — from industry liability limits, to regulatory reform, to coastal restoration, to broader issues of energy policy.
Instead of addressing safety concerns that came out of the disaster in the Gulf, the Republicans ramped up their “oil above all” plans to do whatever would benefit the oil companies. Just this year, the House GOP has taken 13 votes that would directly benefit Big Oil, three of which maintained billions in taxpayer-funded subsidies and royalty relief for oil companies. Barton even defended these subsidies, arguing that “if you put so many disincentives against any U.S. manufacturing or production company, or oil and gas exploration company, they’ll go out of business.”
And just yesterday, House Republicans voted to slash funding for the agency tasked with patrolling oil markets to prevent market manipulation and corruption.
Even further, Republicans pushed bills that would short circuit the review process essential to prevent future blow outs and force sweeping new drilling in sensitive areas, which would “undercut” the administration’s ability to respond to or prevent future disasters and have no effect on gas prices. All this flies in the face of recommendations of the President’s National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, which stated unequivocally in its report that laws for spill prevention and response need to be improved before drilling is expanded.
Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) said that the House’s package of bills “reflects a pre-spill mentality of speed over safety…We need to review the lessons from the BP spill, not lessen safety review.” And BOEMRE director Michael Bromwich, who oversees off shore drilling permitting and safety, lashed out against H.R. 1229, the House-passed bill that “requires that the Interior Department act on offshore drilling permit requests within 30 days. The bill allows two 15-day extensions, but it specifies that permit would be deemed approved if the Interior Department does not act within 60 days.” Bromwich called the bill a “suicide pact:”
Well, that’s sort of a suicide pact, where we’re going to go in, we’re going to be forced to do lease sales with inadequate environmental analysis and we’ll be enjoined from those lease sales. Who wins then? Nobody.
But those votes don’t come cheap. BP celebrated the year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster by doling out campaign contributions to Republicans and Republican leadership (and one Democrat.) So far this year, oil and gas companies have contributed a whopping $2 million in campaign donations to Republicans, compared to $250,000 to Democrats.