Congress grills oil execs

06/15/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Executives from top energy companies testified before a congressional committee today on the safety of offshore drilling operations. Members of the House did not go easy on them.

US Representative Joseph Cao, a Republican from New Orleans, had some rather harsh words for BP America CEO Lamar McKay, who sat before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce looking pale, tired and defeated.

Earlier in the hearing, Representative Clif Stearns, a Republican from Central Florida, told McKay his company’s disaster response was so horrendous that McKay ought to step down.

Arizona Republican John Shadegg complained about what he called a corporate culture and asked McKay what BP America was doing to fix it.

Shadegg also noted the amount of money BP invested in safety measures, ten million dollars, and compared it to another notable figure.

McKay said that number was inaccurate, but Forbes reports that when non-salary compensation is factored in on top of the $4.6 million he made last year in salary and benefits, BP CEO Tony Hayward actually made more than that. But while members on either side of the political fence were venomous in their questioning of McKay as well as the CEOs of Chevron, Shell, Conoco-Phillips and Exxon, Republicans like Louisiana’s Stephen Scalise had a few barbs for the Obama Administration. He wondered why no one from the Minerals Management Service, a division of the US Department of the Interior, had been invited to the hearing.

But New York Democratic Representative Eliot Engel said for conservatives to point fingers at the Obama administration is hypocritical.

While committee members were generally relentless in their criticism of the energy industry, many also used the hearing to call on two things. The first was greater investment in clean energy. The second was more money for research and development in the study of oil spill impacts. Democratic Representative from Houston Shelia Jackson:

BP has pledged half a billion dollars for research and development, including ten million for a consortium of Florida researchers. But it wants research institutions from across the globe to compete for the rest. Earlier today on Capitol Hill, USF oceanographer Robert Weisburg told a House subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife that investment in R & D was vital.

That panel, a subcommittee of the House Committee on Natural Resources, will meet again Thursday to discuss whether Minerals Management Service regulations are at all effective.

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