A controversial comment by veteran Texas Rep. Joe Barton, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, reminded us of an interview we did with him earlier this year.
On Thursday, Barton startled many in a Capitol Hill hearing room (watch excerpts) and lit up the blogosphere when he apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward for the pressure the White House used to have the company create a $20 billion fund to satisfy claims from Gulf Coast victims of the oil leak. Barton said he was “ashamed” of what he called a “shakedown,” for a private corporation to be leaned on to set aside the money.
A few hours later, however, Barton apologized again — to the public — for the first apology, and for using the term “shakedown.” This was after he was set upon by the House GOP leadership to immediately retract his initial statement. One Republican senior aide was quoted in The New York Times as saying Barton “was told to apologize, immediately, or he would lose his spot (on the committee) immediately.”
This was apart from a torrent of criticism from Democrats and White House officials, including Vice President Biden, who called Barton’s comments “incomprehensible.”
In a February interview about the status of climate change legislation, Barton told the NewsHour that he was happy it was going nowhere this year. He dismissed efforts to require a cap on carbon dioxide emissions – the focus of a huge legislative push for cleaner energy – saying he is “not willing to sacrifice the American worker on the altar of environmental purity.”
“I am not a believer CO2 is a pollutant,” he told us. “A few of us need to stand up on basic principles.”
This places Barton in a minority on this issue, as well: a new poll by the Pew Research Center shows that in the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill, two-thirds of Americans support including limits carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions in comprehensive energy legislation.
But reflecting the complexity of the issue, about an equal percentage of Americans favor expanded exploration and development of coal, oil and gas – the three forms of energy that create the most carbon emissions. In that vein, Barton may get his wish that no climate change energy legislation becomes law this year: Senate Democrats, who are in the majority, remain deeply divided over how to move ahead on the issue.