The United States is the only major nation without an energy plan, and the proposed New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act (NAT GAS Act) is the best current hope for filling this void, according to energy billionaire T. Boone Pickens, speaking Tuesday at the National Press Club with a fellow billionaire and alternative energy advocate, CNN founder Ted Turner.

Pickens unabashedly touted his energy plan that is centered on making natural gas a major transportation fuel and joined Turner in embracing renewables as a response to climate change. Former oilman Pickens said he has more recently come to embrace climate change as fervently as Turner, who in turn has come to appreciate natural gas as the nation’s “bridge fuel.”

What he calls “cheap oil” is the root cause for the United States “never having an energy plan” for more than 40 years, going back to when then-President Richard Nixon promised to end the nation’s oil imports by 1980. Politically no one has wanted to tackle a national energy plan during the past four decades, but “it is time to tackle it now,” Pickens said.

Natural gas is considered the key, starting with Pickens’ own proprietary interest in gas as a transportation fuel with his Seal Beach, CA-based Clean Energy Fuels Corp. Since 2008 he has pushed his “Pickens Plan” to cut America’s dependence on foreign oil by more than one-third within 10 years. The plan calls for shifting the nation to using domestic renewable sources and natural gas as a transportation fuel (see Daily GPI, July 11, 2008), and the NAT GAS Act proposal that he supports would adopt elements of his plan (see Daily GPI, April 7).

“If we continue for the next 10 years as we have for the past 40 years, we’ll be paying $300 or $400/bbl, and we’ll be importing 75% of our oil,” said Pickens, noting that the United States currently imports 66% of its oil.

“We have clean energy here; we can take care of ourselves,” Pickens said. “Natural gas is cleaner, cheaper, abundant and it is ours. We have resources that can solve the problem.”

Pickens emphasizes natural gas price advantages as a transportation fuel, although he acknowledges there are added costs for infrastructure for fueling stations that also have to be factored in. One $4 Mcf of gas equals seven gallons of diesel for about $30, he said. “The only thing that is going to move an 18-wheel truck-trailer rig is diesel or natural gas; a battery won’t work. The only one we have that can move an 18-wheeler is natural gas.”

At $1.40/gallon of equivalent diesel, natural gas can eventually make it on its own, but Pickens wants the NAT GAS legislation to provide some national direction. He said the nation can convert its approximately 8 million 18-wheel long-haul trucks to run on natural gas “with a little help,” which is categorized as $5 billion for federal funds spread over the next five years to subsidize the truck conversions.

“I want a billion dollar a year for five years and then kill it,” Pickens said. “The program would sunset after that.” He is asking the Obama administration for billions to get the transportation conversion started. “Just give us the direction and we will get started,” he said. “All of this is going to happen.”

California is a “model” for what the nation could be doing in terms of using natural gas for heavy-duty vehicles and public transportation, Pickens said. “Of all the trash trucks built this year, 75% will run on natural gas and that was all started by the California model. I know it works, and infrastructure will come with the trucks,” said the founder of Clean Energy Fuels, which builds infrastructure.

The business sector will build the fueling infrastructure, and government does not have to get involved, Pickens said.

On broader climate change issues, Turner called the situation “life-or-death” for the planet, and Pickens said he, too, is convinced it is a global situation that needs to be addressed and he favors restrictions on emissions.

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