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The Gasman Cometh

All eyes have been on the Senate’s budget wrangling which has allowed some interesting things to slip under the radar that may otherwise have received more cameras and klieg lights. Majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada recently convened a clean energy summit in DC, inviting such political luminaries as Bill Clinton and Al Gore as well as words of wisdom from noted oil wildman T. Boone Pickens to discuss how to prepare America’s future as a sustainable energy producer. Most conversation has been focused on revamping the country’s electrical grid by renaming it a smart grid which is currently ill-equipped for handling wattage loads from wind and solar farms which factor largely into the overall scheme of things. However, Pickens takes things a step further as he pounds the pulpit pushing for natural gas to be diverted from electrical production to transportation.

California voters might recall Pickens backing Proposition 10, the Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Renewable Energy Bonds measure which proposed to fund rebates for the purchase of high-efficiency or alternative fuel vehicles, the latter being code for cars running on natural gas. There was also money dedicated to researching renewable energy solutions, but the crux of the initiative was to encourage the purchase of cars which would require natural gas to run. Pickens, it so happens, owns a large chain of natural gas stations called Clean Energy which explained why a Texas oil tycoon who achieved wealth through aggressive company purchases in the 1980’s would be shelling out massive amounts of cash to pass a proposition in another state. Voters rejected this by about a 60-40 margin.

Pickens remains unperturbed and, having invested a lot of money in wind power, is traveling the country to discuss the impact wind farms would have on the national energy production. Obviously implementing a national system of renewable energy would take time so the second part of his Pickens Plan is to phase out natural gas as a means to generate electricity by adding wind and solar power and divert natural gas to running cars, thus eliminating a need for foreign resources. Odd that his plan happens to incorporate to industries which he has a large stake in, although he does suggest the use of natural gas is only a temporary measure until alleged future technologies arrive which are even cleaner and renewable to power our fleet of shipping trucks, SUVs and cars. This usually means hydrogen cells, and no one likes to think about which plot of land will eventually house decaying hydrogen batteries.

This recent summit was not a first for Pickens; Harry Reid hosted a similar event in his home state of Nevada last summer. If there’s a more blatant contradiction than hosting a summit to discuss sustainability in a desert city which depends on natural resources to survive as lavish an existence as money can by it hasn’t smacked me over the head yet. It seems that Pickens is masquerading as an environmental crusader, bringing the gospel of clean energy to the people, and to a degree this can be seen as an egalitarian gesture. He offers some common sense advice such as ensuring that homes are better insulated to cut down on consumption, but more widespread common sense, such as improving the nation’s infrastructure to modernize shipping and interstate transportation, have fallen by the wayside.

Senator Reid, for his part, is trying to push the Clean Renewable Energy and Economic Development Act on top of the money set aside in the recent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It’s unclear what exactly this would entail but with Pickens on the stump you can bank on some serious coverage given to wind farms and natural gas. There’s also some indication that more lateral thinking, such as carbon caps and taxes, will help to shape whatever policy might be born from these efforts. So is Reid working to placate the leaders of industry while pacifying the people’s concerns about global warming or does he honestly believe he can surround himself with industry leaders and receive the best advice possible?

Top image stolen from Getty Images, second stolen from Senatus who probably stole it from Getty too. Kudos to Senatus, by the way, for writing about this a month ago. Sorry, been busy but it left a bad enough taste in my mouth to remember.

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