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

Pickens Plan focuses on using more wind power and natural gas

Pickens is not shy about reminding politicians about the more than 1.5 million online army members he claims to have, saying that in 30 years of lobbying on Capitol Hill, "I'm a hell of a lot more powerful today" than he's ever been.

Pickens is mobilizing his troops and organizing a virtual march on Washington for April 1-3 titled, "Three Days That Will Change America." Along with several corporate sponsors, including AEP, Owens Corning, and the American Lung Association, Pickens is urging Americans to either email, write a letter, or go visit their Congress member. Public-relations man Elliot Sloane, who is promoting the event, says Pickens expects politicians to receive more than a million communications aimed at getting them to pass a favorable energy bill.

Washington insiders, however, say it's tough to gauge how effective Pickens's lobbying efforts have been thus far.

Senate staffers, who would only comment on condition of anonymity, say that while Pickens has a talent for drawing attention and getting news coverage, there's little to no evidence that he's influenced actual legislation.

While Pickens has shown he can get through virtually every door in Washington, Joe Romm of the Center for American Progress points out that if you look at recent legislation, Pickens has not done a great job swaying Republican lawmakers. After all, no Republican House members voted for the stimulus bill, and only three Republican senators voted for it.

"Anyone who's willing to spend their own money, has a famous name, and is doing counterintuitive stuff can always get media coverage," says Romm. However, "he can't be a serious player if he can't bring his own side to the table."

Lobbyists say Republicans have been receptive to the Pickens Plan, and Pickens says he's trying hard to persuade them his idea is the way to go.

"I'd say that three or four months ago they were pretty cold to me," says Pickens, "and now they're more willing to come along. The further I go, the more I think [Republicans] realize that the plan has real merit."

The next step, says Pickens, is working to get additional legislative help for the natural-gas side of his plan.

"I think it's going to show up in the energy bill pretty quick," Pickens says one morning, several hours after his routine 6:30 a.m. workout. "There's no question we've got the wind started and we've got the energy grid going, and there's no question we're on our way to the last piece of the plan."

Critics accuse Pickens of being a hypocrite, morphing from a free-market capitalist into a panhandling socialist when it fits his financial needs. To that, Pickens says, "the free market is fine, but waiting on the free market can sometimes be disastrous."

Instead, Pickens chooses to wait on Congress. Only time will tell if the veteran hedge fund manager has made the right bet.

"I feel great," says Pickens, "but until all the horses are in the barn, I'm not going to be tipping my hat or taking credit for anything."

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