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The One-Track Mind of T. Boone Pickens

Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, who’s leading a “virtual march” on Washington this week to push his energy plan, participated in a Center for American Progress Action Fund panel this morning on the need for a national smart electricity grid. But as his co-panelists, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and CAP President John Podesta discussed the hurdles facing a smart grid, Pickens kept changing the subject to discuss his favorite topic (and, he hopes, source of future wealth): natural gas.

“You have only one resource in America that will compete head-to-head with oil, and that is natural gas,” he said.

A few minutes later, as Reid distractedly tore up little pieces of paper (either a nervous habit or some sort of cover-up), Pickens reiterated, “If you’re gonna reduce foreign oil, you have only one resource. That’s it. There’s only one resource that you have here that can do that … which is natural gas.”

Pickens has drawn praise from both Democrats and Republicans for his push for cleaner fuels, but his single-minded focus on natural gas at a panel on an entirely different topic led me to question his commitment to greater environmental reform. After the panel, I asked him about it.

Me: You see natural gas as mostly a solution for the trucking fleet, right?

Pickens: Yes.

Me: As for other stuff, do you find your views generally in line with what Sen. Reid is proposing?

Pickens: Yes.

Me: So if you were in the Senate, you would vote for a cap-and-trade bill?

Pickens: No, I’m not saying I’m for cap-and-trade, ’cause I haven’t seen it. I want to see what they have in cap-and-trade. But you gotta watch out, you don’t want to be putting taxes on industry, cause right now it’s a horrible time. … So cap-and-trade, I don’t know what it’s going to do to us.

Dallas Morning News reporter: Do you agree with the need to put a price on carbon?

Pickens: I’m not sure. It makes me nervous as to how you’re gonna get there, and how you’re gonna measure the carbon, for one thing. And what’s gonna happen if you put a carbon tax on utilities, that’s just gonna passed through to consumers. That’s the only way they can do it.

Me: Is getting off of coal as big a priority for you as getting off of oil?

Pickens: No, it’s not.

Me: So it’s the national security element that really matters most to you?

Pickens: That’s it. The national security is A1 with me.

Now, I don’t mean for a second to diminish the importance of energy independence to our national security. But in the long run, simply moving us from one fossil fuel to another is not much of a climate solution.

Then again, maybe the long run isn’t on his mind. Said Pickens, “I’m eighty-years-old, so I’ve gotta do this pretty quick.”

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