Pickens pitches his plan
August 16, 2008
ASPEN ” Billionaire and former Texas oil man T. Boone Pickens had the patience for only a few questions from Aspen Institute president and CEO Walter Isaacson on Friday. Then he leapt up to give a 30-minute lecture on the Pickens Plan, complete with whiteboard drawings.
Lately, Pickens has been traveling the country hoping to convert America to natural gas and wind. He hopes the country can wean itself from an annual $700 billion appetite for foreign oil.
His lecture also can be found on his website, pickensplan.com, alongside countless social networking tools, including Twitter, video blogs and virtual clubs. Like another crusader for green energy, Al Gore, Pickens is combining an old tool ” the lecture ” with a new one ” social networking ” to build a grassroots network from the ground up. Pickens claims that, despite his money, he has been unable to convert Congress.
But he’s hoping that 1 million Americans will sign on to his plan and send a message to the federal government.
But unlike Gore, Pickens has no movie. More importantly, his concern is national security, not the environment. On Friday, Pickens laid out America’s growing appetite for foreign oil, starting with 1970, when it imported 20 percent of its oil. When that number rose to 42 percent in 1991, Pickens started warning that America couldn’t go over 50 percent.
Present-day America imports almost 70 percent of its oil, he said.
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“If you wanted to attack the U.S., bring us to our knees, you wouldn’t even have to come here,” he said.
Each year, $700 billion leaves the United States, Pickens said, in what he calls “the largest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind.”
Not only is a fortune leaving the United States each year, he argued, it’s hardly going to good causes.
“We send it to a few friends and we send it to the people who don’t like us very well,” he said. “And I’m convinced we’re paying for both sides of the war.”
At points in his talk, Pickens said he supported any form of domestic energy ” even coal and offshore oil. But he acknowledged that for coal to be popular, its emissions would have to be “cleaned up.” And he said that when Sen. McCain asked him about offshore drilling this morning, Pickens told him he didn’t think it was the solution.
Wearing a pastel dress shirt, a green jacket and no tie, Pickens was full of self-deprecating humor, rampant enthusiasm, a dozen stories, a wandering attention span, and a Texas twang. For over an hour, he worked to alternately charm and convince a sold-out crowd that spilled into the atrium. Mobbed after the speech by Aspenites with questions, cameras and energy ideas of their own, Pickens was finally whisked away by his staff to a scheduled dinner.
In brief, the Pickens Plan suggests converting America’s vehicles to run on natural gas, which he argues is an abundant ” and clean-burning ” domestic commodity. As natural gas shifts from powering the grid to powering cars, America would have to ramp up wind energy production, says Pickens. At present, natural gas provides 22 percent of America’s grid power. So Pickens hopes to create a wind corridor from West Texas to Canada that could supply at least 20 percent of America’s energy needs.
He is convinced that American entrepreneurs will finance the capital investment in wind and natural gas. But he’s looking to Congress for tax incentives and, more importantly, the transmission infrastructure.
He argues that the plan would keep $300 billion a year in America. And while he’s clear that his plan is not a cure-all, he believes it could be the bridge between now and a future that could involve hydrogen, biofuels and countless fuels not yet invented. In a video on his website, the 80-year old points out that the distant future is not his problem.
Before inventing the Pickens Plan, Pickens’ greatest political feat may have been financing the 2004 Swiftboating of John Kerry.
Just four years later, the billionaire and Texas oilman is so focused on selling the Pickens Plan, he’s just scheduled a meeting with presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama.
Speaking to an Aspen Institute audience on Friday, Pickens shrugged and pointed out that Obama is in the lead right now, according to the polls.
“I think this is so important to the country that if he wanted to meet at midnight Sunday night, I’d go,” said Pickens.
Pickens met with McCain Friday morning in Aspen for an hour and a half. After the meeting, he posted a comment on his website stressing the nonpartisan nature of his initiative and calling McCain interested in and encouraged by the Pickens Plan.
At Friday’s lecture, Pickens said he could explain America’s dependence on foreign oil with one word, then asked for two ” and finally gave three: “lack of leadership.”
But then he pointed out that cheap oil had made everyone lazy.
“Somebody said, ‘who do you blame for this,'” Pickens said. “And I said when you get down to it, I have to blame me ” and you.”