Committee to grill BP chief executive

Lawmakers hope to get answers

‘STICKS AND STONES’ Tony Hayward says he has thick enough skin to handle his first one-on-one with Congress. ‘‘I’m so far unscathed,’’ he said. ‘STICKS AND STONES’
Tony Hayward says he has thick enough skin to handle his first one-on-one with Congress. ‘‘I’m so far unscathed,’’ he said.
By Frederic J. Frommer
Associated Press / June 17, 2010

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WASHINGTON — BP chief executive Tony Hayward has said famously that he’d like his life back. First, he’ll need to survive a congressional hearing that some are describing along the lines of a public execution.

“I expect him to be sliced and diced,’’ said Representative Bart Stupak, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations, which hauls the British executive in for a hearing/flaying today.

Here’s advice from a Washington lawyer, Stan Brand, who specializes in criminal law and Congress: “Put on your asbestos suit and get ready.’’

It will be Hayward’s inaugural appearance before a congressional committee since the explosion and sinking in April of the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon rig, which has become the largest oil spill in US history. At earlier hearings, company executives such as BP America president Lamar McKay testified alongside other witnesses.

This week, Hayward goes in alone.

Stupak, a Democrat from Michigan, said he expects to press Hayward about BP’s repeated problems over the years.

“We’ve had three investigations going the last five years,’’ he said, referring to this one as well as probes into a deadly plant explosion in 2005 in Texas City, Texas, and a major oil spill in 2006 in Alaska. “Our committee’s been on their butts for a while.’’

Stupak stressed that the carving up of Hayward he envisions has a larger purpose: to come up with a legislative proposal to prevent such accidents in the future.

“We’re frustrated with BP — it’s been five years for some of us on the committee, fighting with them every step of the way,’’ he said.

Hayward has said he’s got thick enough skin to handle the verbal assaults.

“I’m so far unscathed,’’ he told analysts in a recent conference call, referring to the general criticism he’s received. “No one has actually physically harmed me. They’ve thrown some words at me. But I’m a Brit, so sticks and stones can hurt your bones, but words never break them, or whatever the expression is.’’

BP officials declined to comment for this story.

The committee’s top Republican, Texan Joe Barton, dismissed the public execution analogy as one that “demeans the Congress.’’

“We’re not a grand jury. We’re not a court of law. We’re certainly not an execution squad,’’ he said. “I’m not interested in a coverup or a whitewash, but I’m also not interested in a witch hunt.’’

Barton said he supports holding BP accountable but said the committee should also be looking into the Obama administration’s response to the spill.