Wednesday, January 14, 2009

T. Boone Seeks Natural Gas Money from USA

By DAVE MICHAELS / The Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON – T. Boone Pickens said Tuesday that he's seeking as much as $28 billion from the economic stimulus plan to convert heavy-duty trucks from diesel to natural gas engines. Pickens' latest lobbying effort comes as congressional Democrats negotiate details of the $800 billion package of tax cuts and government spending. It also comes two months after California voters rejected a similar proposal – sponsored mostly by one of Pickens' companies – that would have devoted $5 billion for the same purpose.

Still, Pickens continues to gain fans among lawmakers and grass-roots supporters for his "Pickens Plan" to reduce oil imports.

Pickens said he discussed his request Tuesday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman and Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller.

A Pelosi spokesman refused to provide details of the "private conversation."

"They, of course, didn't jump up and give me a standing ovation," Pickens said. "But we talked about the subject. And I think they are thinking about all of this very seriously."

A longtime Republican, Pickens appears to have soothed hard feelings over his funding of the Swift Boat attacks on Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race. He appeared at Tuesday's news conference with environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a Democrat.

Kerry, now chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he agrees with some of Pickens' goals, such as moving away from oil.

But Kerry, who's pushed Democrats to devote more stimulus funds for green energy projects, said he's "not convinced fossil fuels are in need of further subsidy."

Pickens wants to see a pilot program that would convert about 350,000 heavy-duty trucks from diesel to natural gas engines. The effort would cost $75,000 per vehicle and create about 454,470 jobs, according to Pickens.

"350,000 [trucks] on natural gas would decrease – get this number – your [oil] imports by 5.14 percent," Pickens said.

The American Trucking Association hasn't signed onto that plan. A spokesman said too many questions remain – including the need for more natural gas refueling stations.

The Pickens Plan envisions the U.S. reducing oil consumption by switching transportation fuel to natural gas and electricity.

Critics point out that Pickens's plan promotes natural gas at a time when lawmakers and automakers are focused on encouraging the development of electric cars and fuel from crops.

Even if Pickens fails to win support for his natural gas plan, the stimulus may benefit his proposal to build the world's largest wind farm.

That project has been delayed as Pickens ran into trouble financing it.

Pickens also says a lack of transmission – to carry wind power from remote West Texas to population centers in Texas and California – has slowed his plans.

But Monty Humble, vice president and general counsel of Pickens' Mesa Power Group, said the stimulus would contain funding to enable "an accelerated build-out of transmission."

"That would benefit our project," Humble said.

Kennedy said Tuesday that government should fund the transmission, which the U.S. Department of Energy has estimated at $60 billion if the country got 20 percent of its electricity from wind.

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