Nelson: Barton Apology Shows Big Oil's Power

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., on "Face the Nation"
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., on "Face the Nation," Sunday, June 20, 2010. FTN

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said today that Rep. Joe Barton's apology to BP CEO Tony Hayward for what Barton cast as a government "shakedown" of the oil company reflects the fact that "the oil industry has ruled the roost, and in part they still do."

"We're trying to lift that artificial cap of $75 million on economic damages and we can't get it through the Senate because oil state senators keep objecting to our request to get that legislation up," he said on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday.

Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, meanwhile, told host Bob Scheiffer that Barton did not speak for the entire GOP when he made his controversial comments. As Schieffer noted, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel suggested Sunday that Barton's prepared comments reflected Republicans' governing philosophy.

"They see the aggrieved party here as BP, not the fishermen," Emanuel said on ABC's "This Week," arguing that Barton and GOP Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul "think that the government's the problem."

Shelby replied that Barton, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, "only spoke for himself. That is not mainstream Republican thought."

He called Barton's comment "dumb," and noted that Barton repudiated them later.

Shelby also said he wanted to invite Barton and Paul to visit the Gulf to see the devastation0.

"We don't owe BP an apology; they owe the people of the Gulf an apology, the American people," Shelby said.

Also on the program, Rep. Joseph Cao of Louisiana defended his fellow Republican, saying Barton's comments were "out of character" in light of his past inquiries about what New Orleans needs and how things were going for its residents.

"I know that Joe Barton is a caring person and it somewhat baffles me with respect to why he apologized to BP," he said.

California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer told Schieffer that the current $75 million liability cap for oil companies is "ridiculous" and said she expected legislation to raise it in the Senate in the next ten days.

As Schieffer noted, critics of raising the cap say that doing so could force smaller oil companies out of business because they would not be able to afford insurance.

"I don't think that oil companies should be treated any differently than individuals. If you hurt people you have to step up and pay for the damage that you did," Boxer said, comparing an oil company that causes damage to an unlicensed driver who causes an accident.

Bozer also said that Exxon spent two decades fighting court battles in an effort not to reimburse those effected by the Valdez disaster, who ultimately got about $15,000 each. That shouldn't happen again, Boxer argued.

"It's a matter of justice, it's a matter of fairness," she said.