The T. Boone Pickens alt-energy show rolls across America

Pickens Plan focuses on using more wind power and natural gas

Clayton Boyce, spokesman for Graves, says the former governor was mystified by Pickens's statement.

"Governor Graves has known Mr. Pickens for many years and knows that he's an unusual guy, to say the least," says Boyce. "To say that we're un-American because we're not supporting his plan doesn't make sense."

Or as Joseph Romm from the Center for American Progress said, quoting Samuel Johnson, "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

"Bill, I just want  to warn you  on this," Pickens  reportedly told the Texas governor. "I'm going to make  you look unpatriotic  for supporting  foreign oil."
Daniel Kramer
"Bill, I just want to warn you on this," Pickens reportedly told the Texas governor. "I'm going to make you look unpatriotic for supporting foreign oil."
Nick Vlcek

Energy consultant Anthony Rubenstein says he's seen Pickens's tactics firsthand and, like John Kerry, feels "swift-boated."

Rubenstein went up against Pickens last November in the battle over California's Proposition 10, which asked voters to spend $5 billion in taxpayer money on incentives to purchase natural-gas-fueled vehicles and fund alternative fuel research. The "Yes on 10" campaign was backed heavily by Pickens and his California-based company, Clean Energy Fuels, one of the largest providers of natural gas for vehicles in the country. According to news reports, Pickens and other natural-gas companies funded 98 percent of the nearly $29 million spent promoting the proposition. Rubenstein worked free of charge for the underfunded opposition, which reportedly only spent $173,000, and in the end, Rubenstein's team won when the measure failed 60 percent to 40 percent.

Though he says he can't definitively prove it, Rubenstein accuses Pickens and his operation of launching a smear campaign against him after the Los Angeles Times published Rubenstein's op-ed piece, titled "T. Boone Pickens's Clean Secret," in July, which argued Pickens was trying to raid state coffers to help his company. Rubenstein is convinced the "Yes on 10" campaign hired a political consultant in Sacramento to create and then tell the media about a new website, Tonytherube.com, aimed at disparaging Rubenstein's reputation and destroying his credibility on the issue.

The political consultant "sent out a press release saying he's starting a blog because 'Tony Rubenstein is a dickhead,'" says Rubenstein. "If you're telling me he did that for fun and for free, well, that's an interesting hobby that guy's got."

The consultant and the "Yes on 10" campaign have since denied any connection to each other.

Other critics, such as Robert Bradley of Houston's Institute for Energy Research, accuse Pickens of creating the Pickens Plan simply to satisfy his vanity.

"What's at work," he says, "is his gargantuan ego, and this is how he gets in the news."

Rubenstein believes the Pickens Plan is nothing more than the invention of some of the best public-relations minds in the country.

"What the Pickens Plan is," he says, "is a political campaign to exact from the government taxpayer monies to favor his investments. It's a PR plan to wrap himself in a halo of patriotism and philanthropy to make himself unassailable, so that anyone who criticizes him is now subject to vicious ad hominem attacks."

When asked about using fear and patriotism as a sword, Pickens says, "That's probably true. I think we do have something to be afraid of here, and yeah, it's patriotic to be for our own resources instead of foreign oil from the enemy."

Criticisms don't appear to have hurt Pickens's popularity much. Even his adversaries can't help but tip their hat to the aging oilman.

"I've always admired Pickens's gall," says Tom Smith. "He has the capacity to figure out enough things and, like a well-trained quarterback, run through all the holes."

Says Rubenstein, "Objectively, he is a genius. I think there's probably some Ph.D. student out there in communications who should write a thesis about what he's doing, because it is genius."

    

With his wind farm stuck in irons, Pickens is putting the pedal to the metal on his plan for natural gas. Since January, he's made scores of appearances alongside auto industry executives and other businessmen, reciting the same basic mantra: Natural gas is clean, it's abundant, it's American, and it's the only domestic fuel with the power to move an 18-wheeler.

Pickens's idea of using natural gas to fuel passenger cars took a knife in the side when California residents rejected Proposition 10. Voters decided there are just too many problems with converting to natural gas, starting with cost.

Another problem, says Pickens, is that only one natural-gas car is being sold in America, as compared to at least eight different cars produced by automakers in Europe.

Pickens has moved on to focus on heavy-duty trucks and fleet vehicles that return to a central fueling station every night, such as garbage trucks, city buses, taxis, and commercial vehicles owned by companies such as Wal-Mart and UPS. This approach has landed Pickens far more supporters than did his original plan, but it still faces considerable criticism.

For starters, says Tom Smith, while natural-gas vehicles run 90 percent cleaner than their conventional-fuel counterparts, they only reduce greenhouse gas and CO2 emissions by 20 percent, compared to a 50 percent reduction by hybrid-electric vehicles. Then there's the price of natural gas, and while it currently costs less—about $1.60 a gallon versus just over $2 a gallon for diesel—it is volatile, and the price will most likely increase if use and demand rise.

Pickens points out that in the last several years, huge supplies of natural gas have been discovered in Texas, Louisiana, and West Virginia. With such a vast domestic supply, he argues, why not use it? After all, for the last several years it's been thought that the hydraulic fracturing method of extracting the gas, whereby enormous amounts of water and chemicals are shot miles into the ground to split the rock and release the gas, was perfectly safe. The Environmental Protection Agency said as much in a 2004 report.

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