The case against Pickens goes like this: Despite its wide reach, this ad campaign is meant more for Congress and the President than it is for voters. Its real intention (and the intention of the lobbyists setting up offices along K St. in Washington) is to spur the government to use its power to tax, regulate, and subsidize—to pick winners in the alternative fuel game. And that winner would be Pickens, as he readily admits. He's building the largest wind farm in the world in Texas, and he's the largest supplier of transportation-related natural gas. His admonitions to the former Vice President and Nobel Prize Winner Al Gore that "global warming is on page 2 for me," may seem folksy and pragmatic, and I suppose we're supposed to excited that a fossil fuel man of Pickens' caliber is even interested in alternative fuels, but the "page 2" quip begs an equally pithy rebuttal. Here's one: if we don't deal with "page 2" there are massive waves of species extinctions, crop disruptions, and catastrophic climate changes waiting on page 3. Of course, as Wilkinson points out, Pickens could use wind power to replace dirty coal-produced electricity and still cash in on one half of his plan, but because he's already invested in natural gas, he's insisting on replacing a relatively clean alternative energy source with a very clean energy source, instead of relegating coal soot to Dickens novels.
There are some problems with Wilkinson's analysis. He says that if wind power and natural gas used for transportation fuel were the most efficient fuels, they would already be used at higher levels. It strikes me as odd that the conservative Cato Institute would have such faith in the transparency of heavily regulated and subsidized energy markets which apparently always allows the most efficient alternative fuels to rise to the top. Pickens, after all, (according to Wilkinson) is counting on the potential of these kinds of regulations to make his plan work.It all seems to boil down to, "If you'd rather enrich a domestic energy cartel than a foreign one, The Pickens Plan is for you." I prefer neither.
Must T. Boone Pickens (a former hedge fund manager, corporate takeover artist, and Swift Boat-funder) become a moral hero by making untold billions? One would hope that we could come together around preserving our planet for future generations without the cynicism attached to venture capitalism, but instead we have Pickens' half-baked scheme of a few good ideas wrapped in an convenient (for him, that is) investing strategy. That's a failure of moral leadership.Alternative energy innovators should and will be rewarded by the market. But if Pickens concerns still stop at "page 2", it's time to close the book.