The Enron Defense

Published: June 18, 2010

By Jim Lichtman
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Watching BP CEO Tony Hayward respond to questions by the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on oversight and investigations reminded me of Enron Chief Jeff Skilling’s testimony in February, 2002.

Skilling: Congressman, Enron Corporation was an enormous corporation. Could I have known everything going on everywhere in the company?

Hayward: We drill hundreds of wells a year around the world.

Skilling: I don’t recall that…

Hayward: I don’t recall the time that was saved.

Skilling: What I do not know, I do not know either because it was kept from me, or it never happened at all…

Hayward: I wasn’t part of the decision-making process… I wasn’t involved in any of the decision making… I simply was not involved in the decision-making process… That was a decision I was not party to…. I wasn’t involved in the decision-making on [that] day… I wasn’t involved or aware of any of the decisions… I wasn’t involved; I’m sorry.

In fairness, unlike Enron both Hayward and BP Chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg, have committed $20 Billion to a compensation fund for businesses affected by the Gulf spill.  However, what was particularly in evidence was the over-the-top rhetoric demonstrated by several of members of the committee. For awhile it seemed like each member was trying to out-lecture the other to see whose sound-bite would make the Nightly News.

And the winner was… Texas Representative Joe Barton who not only apologized to Hayward for the harsh questioning, but said that the special fund agreed to by the White House “amounts to a $20 Billion shakedown.”  At the lunch break, Barton received so much flak from Democrats and Republicans alike that he issued a statement apologizing for his apology.

Clearly, BP’s actions before, during and after the accident deserve serious investigation and, if necessary, criminal prosecution, but not today.

If I had been on the committee I would have kept my questions focused on these: an overview of what is happening now and when BP estimates the well will be capped; and most importantly, how are you addressing concerns raised by Louisiana coast officials, most notably, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser whose regular reports to CNN’s Anderson Cooper clearly appear to tell a different story of BP’s efforts regarding the clean-up.

At this point, little is to be gained by excoriating Hayward in front of, what seems to be, every available camera on the east coast.

I am not advocating letting BP off the hook.  I just believe that at this moment, Congressional representatives should focus more on the needs at hand, rather than engage in what comes across as a political mob attack on a single individual.


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