By Herman K. Trabish
Ted Turner and T. Boone Pickens, two rich, famous, gifted gabbers with big stakes in energy who made a joint appearance at the National Press Club on Tuesday, are uninhibited about saying why U.S. energy policy remains fundamentally unchanged.
"The oil and coal lobbies, who are holding the hill and have all the money," Turner said, "have done a masterful job of confusing everybody. I even go to bed at night praying for clean coal and I know there is no such thing. But I've seen so many ads for it that they're persuading me that it's possible."
It is likely Pickens wanted to do a push for passage of H.R. 1380, legislation that would subsidize a transition from diesel gasoline to natural gas for heavy transport, and got his pal Turner, once known as "The Mouth of the South," to join him.
"If President Obama," Turner said, "had just taken the energy and climate change bill and put it first, before health care, we'd have gotten it." But the Democrats' political capital and resources were expended, Turner said, "and then the coal and oil industry counter-attacked with their ad campaign and the solar and wind industries ran out of money and couldn't match them and we just got beat."
But Turner remains optimistic. "I foresee, 20 years from now, a world where there is no more fossil fuel, where it's not being used anymore," Turner said. "It served us well for several hundred years, since the time of the Industrial Revolution, but it's time to move on to clean renewable energy," he said, then added as an afterthought, "with natural gas as a bridge fuel, probably."
A world without fossil fuel pollution, Turner said, would be "a real nice world." He then looked directly at the audience, grinned, and said, "We're either gonna do it or we're gonna die."
"I want to talk about energy security," Pickens began. It was the familiar Pickens Plan refrain. "We have no energy plan. Forty years without an energy plan. Why? Because we had cheap oil. Neither party ever had an energy plan." It has been, he said, "an obvious bipartisan effort to not do anything."
But, Pickens said, "in 10 years, we'll pay $300 or $400 per barrel for oil and be importing 75 percent of our oil," because "oil's a finite resource and it's running out." And, Pickens added, "you'll be able to check whether Boone knows what he's talking about. In the fourth quarter of this year, demand is projected to be 90 million barrels a day and I don't think the world can produce 90 million. If they can't, the only way you can kill demand is with price."
Then came Pickens' pitch for natural gas as a heavy transport fuel. "It's cleaner, it's cheaper, it's abundant and it's ours. Why not?"
Turner, who described himself as a little cleaner and a little greener than Pickens, said that he doesn't disagree about the use of natural gas as a bridge, though hydrocarbons will be needed in the future for plastics "and the sun is sitting there free everyday, just going to waste."
"We're capitalists," Pickens interrupted. "We try to find the cheapest deal and make the most off of it," he said, explaining that solar and wind remain more expensive than natural gas. He backed out of his ambitious 1,000-megawatt wind project in Texas, he said, because it was too expensive. (He neglected, however, to mention that the biggest obstacle to that project was inadequate transmission and the transmission might have been built if he hadn't demanded water rights along with transmission rights-of-way.)
H.R. 1380, Pickens said, would subsidize the transition of heavy transport from diesel gasoline to natural gas with a $60,000 tax credit for each purchase of a new natural gas-fueled truck. "I want a billion dollars a year for five years -- and then kill it. The program is over. It sunsets out. Five billion dollars."
It will, Pickens said, fund the transition for only a small portion of the U.S. fleet's eight million 18-wheelers. "The money to get it started," is all he wants, Pickens said, "and we'll go in that direction. Because we are patriotic people and we're not stupid. We can save $1.50 per gallon."
Pickens' vision is based on the Southern California trash truck fleet transition to natural gas led by the Air Quality Management District's Barry Wallerstein. "Infrastructure will come with the transition," Pickens said.
"Can you imagine?" he went on. "Go back. Henry Ford." What if, Pickens suggested, someone had pointed out to Ford that there were no gas stations and Ford had said, "Oh, hell, we can't do it then."
Returning to his energy security theme, Pickens said the transition to natural gas will reduce OPEC oil imports by half in seven years, eliminating the funding of both sides of the Middle East wars by U.S. drivers. "I've been with the Saudis," Pickens said. "They say to me, ‘If you come up with alternatives, we'll lower the price of oil.'"
"We're subsidizing coal and oil big time," Turner pointed out. "On a totally level playing field, wind, solar and geothermal have a much better chance than they do with the subsidies all stacked up against them. We're subsidizing the wrong thing."