Special Reports
T. Boone Pickens Plugs His Energy Plan at the Democratic Convention

By Michael Barone
January 1, 2009

One of the pleasures of covering a national convention is that you run into all
sorts of interesting people, some of them not politicians, and you can ask them
anything you want. I remember at the 1988 Democratic National Convention running
into a man who was on the Forbes 400. I asked him what he was doing there; he
wasn't even a Democrat. "Oh," he said, "I just take a suite at the Ritz Carlton
and meet with people from around the country. It's amazing how many important
people are here."

Heading toward the perimeter of the convention area early this afternoon, I ran
into T. Boone Pickens. I introduced myself (we've met before, at the American
Spectator dinner) and asked him about his energy plan, which he's been hawking
through television and radio ads and trying to sell to politicians. He's met
with both Barack Obama and John McCain, for example. And the Democrats have been
welcoming him, even though he was one of the financiers of the Swift Boat
Veterans for Truth in the 2004 campaign. He told me that as he was talking to a
group of Democrats, he mentioned the Swift Trucking Company, and John Podesta,
Bill Clinton's second-term chief of staff, quickly interjected, "That's not
swift boats."

In listening to Pickens I got a different impression of his program than I've
gotten from his ads. He sees natural gas, more than the wind energy he's been
touting, as the fuel that can bridge us from today's dependence on foreign oil
to the development of new technologies. He pointed out that 30 percent of motor
fuel is used by trucks, and that big truck fleets turn over every two-and-a-half
years. A mandate—"I hate that word," he said—could mean that all big trucks
could be using natural gas in a short time. And he's also for a mandate for gas
stations to install natural gas pumps at $400,000 each.

In contrast, he said the Democrats' (and Obama's) call for 1 million plug-in
hybrids would reduce gas usage much less. Big trucks use a huge amount of gas,
and they can't be run on electric motors. I asked about whether General Motors
had made progress on the batteries for the Chevrolet Volt it promises to unveil
by 2010. He said he was fine with the Volt, but that it's a small car. The
battery would not work in a truck.

Pickens points out that Southern California cleaned its air primarily by
substituting natural gas for other fuels. It certainly has made great progress.
I remember visiting Los Angeles in 1969, when you couldn't see the mountains and
the air looked a sullen green color. Today you can see the mountains almost
every day. Southern California slapped mandates on gas for (good) environmental
reasons. Pickens argues for mandates for national security reasons (and says
they'd be good for the environment too). He's not much interested in eliminating
the 54 cent tariff on Brazilian sugar ethanol; he says he wants to develop
American sources of energy.

So here is his big point: requiring trucks to use domestic natural gas could
reduce our dependence on foreign oil enormously. That certainly strikes me as plausible.


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