Another Texas oil man has hijacked our nation's energy policy discussion. But this time, he might not be saying what you expect, that is, if you've been able to avoid T. Boone Pickens' media barnstorming crusade against fossil fuel dependence.Pickens' is a billionaire career oil man with political connections. He was Bob Dole's energy policy advisor in his 1996 presidential run. He's the founder and chairman of BP Capital Management, who’s run out of faith that the traditional fossil fuel industry can solve (or even stop creating) energy policy problems. His well-rehearsed shtick is based on a few simple numbers: essentially, 70 percent of the nation's oil is imported from foreign sources, at a cost of $700 billion a year. In 10 years our energy use patterns will cost $7 trillion, and will constitute the largest transfer of wealth in human history.
His solution is to develop wind power (as the United States is the "Saudi Arabia of wind power") to meet 20 percent of the nation's electricity needs and use natural gas as transportation fuel.
The pure economic cost and loss of security attached to our current energy woes are what troubles Pickens. Global warming, not so much. As he told the Los Angeles Times , "Al calls me, we talk, and he always wants me to go with him on his deal. I said, 'Al, global warming is on page 2 for me." Though he shares some of their views on energy policy, Pickens isn't signing up with any liberal Sierra Club climate change agitators, at least not yet. At the very least, it'll be interesting to see how this marriage of necessity fares during the hyper-partisanship of the 2008 presidential election.
Pickens knows his plan is a stopgap, and further reduction of this $700 billion energy bill will have to come from more alternative sources, but it's harder to criticize a plan, no matter how limited in scope, that offers even a few concrete details on how to get to real energy and carbon savings in the face of a global energy crisis that sends politicians across continents into fits of short sighted, reactionary policy. Like another wily and memorable Texas billionaire, the Pickens Plan Web site has a short video featuring Pickens slashing energy costs by $300 billion with a few swipes on a marker board.
But is it all that easy? Al Gore won a Nobel Prize largely for defining the problem of global warming, and Pickens says he's got a plan that takes us almost halfway to being energy independent. Pickens speaks in the folksy and brusque manner of a Texas oil company board room, and a recent newspaper article was filled with admonitions for energy czars to "take the hill", to "sweep through" the Great Plains with wind power lines, and that there's "no other plan."There is no board of directors (or even elected politicians) that even an oil man with cachet like Pickens could assemble that could make his plan come together fully formed. He plays up leadership and decisiveness (vital qualities in this situation, to be sure), but our current energy policy, or lack thereof, is the result of thousands of competing interests in a democratic marketplace of ideas. There's no reason to think this will be any different. If Pickens wants his ideas to take root, he'd be best served by taking his language out of the corporate board room and into the supermarket to engage energy industrial leaders, politicians, the public, and (of course) architects.