August 18, 2008

Pickens Pushes Plan to Wean U.S. Off Oil

By Steve Tetreault


stephens washington bureau

WASHINGTON - T. Boone Pickens, the billionaire Texas oilman and financier, predicted Friday that his ambitious plan to refocus U.S. energy policy on alternatives such as wind and natural gas soon will become a major issue for the presidential candidates.

"Our dependence on foreign oil has got to change," Pickens said in a conference call. "The outflow of $700 billion a year (to oil exporting nations), we can't afford that. That's totally unacceptable. It's not sustainable.

"There is no question this is uppermost in the mind of the people, and it has to be addressed in this presidential campaign."

Pickens is promoting his plan at town hall meetings and has set up a $58 million campaign that includes a dynamic Web site and online social network where he recruits organizers to build grass- roots support to force political leaders to give it a look. The site is

He also will speak at a national clean energy summit being held Monday and Tuesday at the Cox Pavilion at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

The energy debate so far has focused on offshore oil drilling. The 80-year-old former corporate raider met with Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Friday to discuss the Pickens plan, and said he'll meet with the presumptive Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, on Sunday.\u2002

"That's where I wanted to go, and that's where we are," Pickens said. "The debate's going to start pretty quick on energy by the candidates, I'm sure, and we're going to see a more complete picture."

The summit, organized by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., UNLV and the Center for American Progress think tank, will feature President Clinton speaking on Monday evening.

Speakers and panel participants on Tuesday will include the governors of Arizona, Colorado and Utah, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The point of the conference is to come up with a blueprint to speed development of renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies, said Daniel Weiss, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Weiss said the recommendations will be shopped at the national political conventions.

In just a few months since he began promoting his initiative, Pickens has become a major voice for renewable energy. He contends that cheap and easy-to-find oil is gone. The United States is putting its security future at risk, he said, by spending billions of dollars daily on imports that now amount to almost 70 percent of U.S. needs.

"In 10 years, we will have exhausted somewhere, I think, around $10 trillion if we continue to import foreign oil at this level, because it'll go up, I promise you," Pickens said. "In 10 years we'll be importing 80 percent instead of 70 percent. So I think everybody realizes that something's going to have to happen pretty quick."

His plan proposes to build turbines and transmission lines through the middle of the country, from Texas to Canada, to harness power from wind. He estimates wind energy could supply 20 percent of the nation's electricity in 10 years.

Growing use of wind, and solar in the Southwest, would displace natural gas as a power plant fuel. Natural gas, in turn, could be diverted into fuel to run cars and trucks, reducing the need for gasoline.

"We cannot make a big cut, I don't think, in 10 years without using natural gas for transportation fuel," Pickens said. "And I think you can reduce the dependency on foreign oil by 30 percent to 40 percent by using natural gas."

The Pickens plan has doubters who say he is underestimating the trillion-dollar costs of large-scale conversions to wind and natural gas.

Other critics note that the Pickens plan follows his own business interests as he is investing $12 billion in a Texas wind farm and has money in natural gas investments.

Reid, who also took part in the conference call, said that he welcomed Pickens as a visionary on alternative energy and that the summit will cover a broad range of topics.

"We're going to talk about anything that anyone wants to talk about at the conference," he said.

Reid said he will continue to press for votes to renew tax breaks that renewable energy executives have said are crucial to encourage investments in their projects.

"The one thing that will revolutionize energy is the Congress passing extended tax credits," Reid said. "People who have billions of dollars are willing to invest in the future.

"The future is not with a commodity discovered in the 18th century. It's the modern way, and that is sun, wind, geothermal, biomass."

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at [email protected] or 202-783-1760. Review-Journal writer Keith Rogers contributed to this report.

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