Why Is Dick Cheney Silent on the Oil Spill?

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Cheney defending his record on national security at the Gerald R. Ford Foundation last year. Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

When the Obama administration, or the media, or just about anybody contradicts Dick Cheney's views on national security, he is far from shy about responding. But facing a firestorm of criticism over the oil spill, he's been notably silent. 

More than national security, energy policy and the oil industry might be considered Cheney's real areas of expertise. He was chairman and CEO of oil-services company Halliburton between 1995 and 2000. And, of course, he worked prominently on energy policy as vice president from 2000 to 2008. 

Halliburton was working on the Deepwater Horizon rig just before it blew up, opening the well and sending oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. Some experts have speculated that the company may have been to blame for the explosion. The pro-oil atmosphere (and Cheney's continued links to Halliburton) during his vice presidency, have also come to the fore since the April 20 accident. 

The criticisms center on a possible conflicts of interest and cronyism. Cheney received a $34 million payout when he left Halliburton to join George W. Bush's ticket in September 2000. But the Congressional Research Service found that he "retained ties" to the company into 2003, while in government, through "unexercised stock options and deferred salary." 

In 2001 Cheney headed a team tasked with developing national energy policy. The Washington Post reported that many of those consulted were from big oil and gas companies, some also donors to the Bush campaign and the Republican Party. The task force's executive director, Andrew D. Lundquist, subsequently became a lobbyist representing companies who appeared before him—including, according to the Post, BP, Duke Energy, and the American Petroleum Institute. Critics accused the administration of cronyism, and argued that the National Energy Policy Report, issued by the White House in May 2001, was unfairly lax toward the "dirty energy" companies at the expense of renewable and sustainable alternatives. 

In 2005 President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act, which retained the focus of Cheney's report, into law. It included what has become known as "the Halliburton loophole," which removed authority from the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate a potentially dangerous gas-drilling process invented by Halliburton.  

These links, the fact that Cheney's former campaign press secretary Ann Womack-Colton has recently become BP's head of U.S. media relations, and the general pro-oil, anti-regulation atmosphere in the Bush years have not escaped the attention of the pundits. MSNBC's Chris Matthews highlighted the Halliburton-Cheney connection in an interview with Jay Leno on the BP spill. Frank Rich, in The New York Times, pointed out that the Interior Department degenerated into a "cesspool of corruption," under Bush and Cheney, and that the pair bequeathed Obama "a Minerals Management Service as broken as the Bush-Cheney FEMA exposed by Katrina."

His ears ringing with the cries of "Cheney's Katrina," a title many are striving to bestow on the gulf oil spill, one might expect the former VP to convene journalists for a speech, like he did in May last year at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute to talk about national security. That lengthy rebuttal was timed specially to coincide with a speech President Obama gave on the same topic—a ploy calculated to get the maximum press attention. The closest we have this time is Liz Cheney, Dick's daughter, arguing with Arianna Huffington on ABC's This Week. 

We wondered why. Are the claims too substantial to refute? Is Cheney so incensed that he cannot trust himself to speak? Or, conversely, is he perhaps so sanguine about the entire issue that he doesn't feel it merits comment? We reached out to Cheney, via the American Enterprise Institute, to ask. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, there was no response by the time we posted this.