In a show of the abiding influence of the oil and gas lobby in Washington, Joe Barton, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, yesterday apologized to BP (NYSE: BP) for the White House's forcing the company to set up an escrow fund to help pay for the Gulf cleanup.

He called it a "tragedy" that the company was being "shaken down" to clean up its mess. Barton has received more than $1.4 million from the industry during his career, including $27,000 from BP, $60,300 from Valero (NYSE: VLO), and $69,399 from ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM). At $146,500, Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE: APC), which owns a 25% stake in the BP well, is Barton's largest corporate contributor.

Under political pressure from just about everyone, Barton apologized for his apology. But this whole incident is just another confirmation of the industry lobby's enormous power. When you have a congressman saying something so politically tone-deaf at a high-profile hearing organized to grill BP CEO Tony Hayward, it makes you realize how BP and the rest of the industry was able to get away without credible emergency response plans before the spotlight fell upon them.

Ilan Moscovitz doesn't own shares of any company mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.