The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


In the 35 years since the oil embargo of 1973, a time when we received our first warning about our dependence on foreign oil, we’ve done exactly nothing to remedy our dependence on foreign oil. In fact our oil imports have tripled in the intervening years. For those old enough to remember gas lines that stretched for miles and shortages that inconvenienced millions, you’ll also remember that every President since that time has pontificated about energy and every congress has sanctimoniously blamed big oil and done nothing of any substance. Our leadership on this issue has been abysmal.

Along comes an 80-year old oil man, T. Boone Pickens, who has proposed a workable short term strategy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil by 30 percent in five to ten years. He states:
How will we do it? We'll start with wind power. Wind is 100% domestic, it is 100% renewable and it is 100% clean. Did you know that the midsection of this country, that stretch of land that starts in West Texas and reaches all the way up to the border with Canada, is called the "Saudi Arabia of the Wind"? It gets that name because we have the greatest wind reserves in the world. In 2008, the Department of Energy issued a study that stated that the U.S. has the capacity to generate 20% of its electricity supply from wind by 2030. I think we can do this or even more, but we must do it quicker.

My plan calls for taking the energy generated by wind and using it to replace a significant percentage of the natural gas that is now being used to fuel our power plants. Today, natural gas accounts for about 22% of our electricity generation in the U.S. We can use new wind capacity to free up the natural gas for use as a transportation fuel. That would displace more than one-third of our foreign oil imports. Natural gas is the only domestic energy of size that can be used to replace oil used for transportation, and it is abundant in the U.S. It is cheap and it is clean. With eight million natural-gas-powered vehicles on the road world-wide, the technology already exists to rapidly build out fleets of trucks, buses and even cars using natural gas as a fuel. Of these eight million vehicles, the U.S. has a paltry 150,000 right now. We can and should do so much more to build our fleet of natural-gas-powered vehicles.

I believe this plan will be the perfect bridge to the future, affording us the time to develop new technologies and a new perspective on our energy use. In addition to the plan I have proposed, I also want to see us explore all avenues and every energy alternative, from more R&D into batteries and fuel cells to development of solar, ethanol and biomass to more conservation. Drilling in the outer continental shelf should be considered as well, as we need to look at all options, recognizing that there is no silver bullet.

As I’ve mentioned many times in this blog, we must get started now. And to accomplish anything we must neuter the influence of all special interests who’d love nothing more than sabotaging any reasonable program. Who are the special interests? Big Oil, for one. But there are others: the environmental lobby—neo-Luddites who use “lawfare” (lawsuits) to block any reasonable attempt to solve our energy problems; public utilities—who don’t want to invest in infrastructure at the rate that is necessary; citizen groups who often take a NIMBY approach to any new energy infrastructure development (e.g., a group led by Ted Kennedy, who objected to wind power off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard—after all, the windmills would interfere with their sailing), and all of the rest of us—who consume without regard to any meaningful conservation.

We face a national security crisis as well as an environmental problem, and as a consequence, true leadership would act in a bipartisan manner to neuter each of these special interests. The implication is serious compromise among both Democrats and Republicans, not Barack Obama’s vague definition of the word. We would pass legislation that would preclude lengthy lawsuits (call it a national emergency), streamline regulation and the acquisition of permits, reduce or eliminate public hearings (where politicians do nothing other than grandstand), and establish quantitative short term goals that must be met.

T. Boone Pickens does not have a background as a “community activist.” He’s never been a politician. Maybe that’s why he’s recommending something that could actually work.

What we need is not another government agency. We need a private corporation, call it Energetics Corp., that has been given special tax breaks via legislation and special powers to cut the bureaucratic red tape and get it done. Energetics would be in it for profit and would be granted great leeway as long as it attained clear, quantitative goals. Maybe T. Boone Pickens could be the CEO (yeah, I know, old people can’t lead, right?) and lead us out this mess.

As Pickens states:
We have a golden opportunity in this election year to form bipartisan support for this plan. We have the grit and fortitude to shoulder the responsibility of change when our country's future is at stake, as Americans have proven repeatedly throughout this nation's history.

We need action. Now.

Yeah, we do.