Tammy Haddad spoke with Texas oil magnate T. Boone Pickens for the July 18 edition of "National Journal On Air." This is a transcript of their conversation.
Q: I'm Tammy Haddad. This is "National Journal On Air," and we have the man of the hour with us, T. Boone Pickens. Welcome. Mr. Pickens.
Pickens: Thank you, Tammy.
Q: You know, you have really changed the world with your conversation about wind energy. [PickensPlan.com] is really an incredible Web site -- these videos, the ads, what you're doing. For those who haven't seen it, which means they don't live here in the United States -- but why don't you just give us a quick one minute on how you think you have the answer to the energy issue?
Pickens: OK. The problem first: We are paying now $700 billion a year for foreign oil. We're going to break the country, is what's going to happen. If we go 10 years at this, and we've been doing it for 40 -- not at that level, but we have... our imports have gone up from 24 percent in 1970 to now -- we're almost 70 percent, and by 10 years from now, in 2018, we'll be up to 80 percent. It's crazy, we're insane to do what we're doing.
OK. That's where I'm approaching the problem. Now, when I look at the solutions -- we only have one natural resource in America that can replace foreign oil, and that is natural gas. Natural gas is a better transportation fuel than gasoline, so if that's the case, it's cheaper, it's cleaner and it's a domestic resource. So we have to go to natural gas; we don't have any choice if we're going to reduce the $700 billion. And I think within less than 10 years we could reduce that by 30 to 40 percent -- the import of foreign oil.
So you know, when I see it, I see only winners here. And then I fold in a wind project to help it all, but you'll get into that on some questions here.
Q: Absolutely. In fact, let me ask you about that. Let's start with wind, because your own state of Texas yesterday agreed to a $4.9 billion plan -- now it's new transmission lines. Can you explain the transmission lines and how it works with the wind power?
Pickens: Yes, they're going to build -- that's a [unintelligible] system, that's our transmission in Texas -- and they're going to build these lines and extend it into the wind area -- which is up in the panhandle of Texas -- which will be very helpful for us.
Q: But how? I mean, if it's such an effective way, why wasn't it done before?
Pickens: Listen, that is a question you can ask about the problems with energy in America. I mean, why wasn't it done before? For 40 years, Tammy, 40 years, we have had no leadership on energy in this country. Can you imagine that we drifted, drifted, drifted like we have, and we're so dependent on foreign oil? You know, it's the same thing; government moves very slow, as you know, and they are reactive instead of proactive. Government is not like business and industry is.
Q: So business right now has to push and prod governments to get into this?
Pickens: What we've got to do, is we've got to come up with some leadership in Washington that recognizes the problem and you know, then has a plan, and they tell us this is what we're going to do, because the American people are fed up with this.
From the polling we've done and the response we've had to our PickensPlan.com -- we've had over 2 million people come in on that. We didn't have any idea that there was that much unrest in the country. And we've had over 100,000 people come in on our PushPickensPlan.com. So you know, those are foot soldiers, I mean, they'll march with me, and so I'm going to get to know all those people before this is over with. But we've got to have leadership come in some place and say, this is what is going to happen, otherwise we're going to give the country away.
Q: So have you talked to Senator McCain -- or candidate McCain, I should ask?
Pickens: No, I haven't talked to the senator. I haven't talked to Senator [Barack] Obama, either. I said I'd be glad to sit down with both of them, because this is a total nonpartisan issue as far as I'm concerned.
Q: How about the president? I mean, are you trying to get these big people? I mean, the thing that you've done that's extraordinary is that you were able -- from the power and the work that you've done over the years and the money that you have -- to draw all this attention to it. But my question is -- I mean, it's not going to be the Energy Department that fixes it -- you've got to get the candidates or this president together with you to make these changes now.
Pickens: Well, the Energy Department, they did a great study that came out in April of '07 that the wind corridor -- they evaluated it very well -- they said that we could do 20 percent of our power generation off wind. That was a good plan, but they now say they don't think you could do it within 10 years. I'm telling you it's got to be done within 10 years, and so that's -- again, the Energy Department doesn't move very fast.
Q: Well, funny you should say 10 years, because another prominent citizen, former Vice President Al Gore, yesterday made a speech talking about climate change and energy -- some of these issues. And he said the same thing -- we've got to deal with this now -- although he has a different plan. Do you want to give us a critique of his plan? Do you think he's talking about the right direction?
Pickens: I know it. I know Al's plan. I talked to him last week, and we talked for over an hour about energy, and I think both of us have the same concerns about the country.
Q: What did he say about your plan, by the way?
Pickens: Al is not big on natural gas. He wants to go to the electric car, and I think you have to bridge to the electric car, and natural gas is ready to go now. We have an abundance of natural gas -- it's cheap, it's clean -- so you could put it into the transportation fuel very fast.
Q: Then why is he against it?
Pickens: Well he doesn't like hydrocarbons, and I know where he comes from; it's global warming that he's focused on, and I'm more focused on the $700 billion figure. So he thinks that, you know, our problem is that global warming is going to get us before anything else, and I think the $700 billion's going to -- you know what I mean. But we're in agreement on renewables and everything else; I just don't think he's quite there on the natural gas.
Q: So, how about, though, Mr. Pickens, if you and Vice President Gore go on the road, even though you have different paths. If you go on the road together -- by the way, the road could be ABC, NBC, CBS; I'm not saying, you know, to go through Oklahoma, California and all the cities -- but if you combined for this message, do you think that you could have an even greater impact? Why not go on the road together?
Pickens: I think it'd be confusing, because what will happen is Al and I would be on the first question and they would say, "What do you think the transportation fuel should be?" And Al would say, "I think it'd be electricity." And I would say, "I think we're ten years away from that," and I would say, "natural gas" and then we would talk. I think if we're separate and saying 90 percent the same thing, I think it's two campaigns instead of one combined.
Q: Well, do you think that there should be an energy czar? I mean a true energy czar; I don't mean something within the government, a commission.
Pickens: Well you know, I think I was the one that came up with that idea -- that you should have a czar -- and I told President Bush two months ago. I said there should be an energy czar, and I said the czar should report to the president one time a year. I said the rest of the time they give him the tools to get the job done and tell him to go do it.
Q: And what did he say?
Pickens: He listened, he asked some questions, and he said, who do you think would be a person for that? And I said that I think George Patton would be good. Of course George Patton's been dead years.
Q: I was going to say, General Patton?
Pickens: Yeah, but you need somebody like General Patton; you give him the tools and you say, there's the hill, General, take it -- take the hill.
Q: Well, if Senator Obama wins, should it be Al Gore?
Pickens: He should what?
Q: If Obama wins the election, should Al Gore go in and be the energy czar?
Pickens: Well, you know, you asked me a question, I don't know. I would certainly not... In that case, I think I would be for Al Gore for energy czar.
Q: Well, if Senator McCain wins, would you want to be energy czar?
Pickens: No, I've already said numerous times I'm too old for that job. I wouldn't want that at all. I'd be glad to help in any way. I don't always have to be the chairman of something. I'm a good foot soldier, you know; I'd be glad to work with somebody on it or for somebody.
But listen, this thing, I'm dead serious on what I'm talking about. This country is -- we are in pitiful shape as far as energy is concerned. And the thing about it, where we're getting our energy, we're in bad shape. We have plenty of energy right here. What we need is to get organized and to get a leader that will take us into the fight and win the war.
Q: Do you have an opinion on the offshore drilling that's being talked about in Congress?
Pickens: I've got an opinion on everything. Sure, you ought to do OCS [Outer Continental Shelf], you ought to do renewables, you ought to do biofuels, you ought to do ethanol -- all of them. Those are ours, and we've got to get off the dependency on the foreign oil.
Q: Well, but wait a minute, though, because part of the food crisis is being blamed on the fact that so much of corn is going towards ethanol.
Pickens: OK, don't do it then. I'd rather eat than drive my car.
Q: That's a good line. What about the war in Iraq? I mean, do you think that this country has been distracted by the war and foreign policy and other issues? Is that how we got so far out of line?
Pickens: No, that doesn't have anything to do with energy. I mean the energy started back in -- the problem is when we first started importing, and the reason we've got into the problem on energy, very simply on the oil, was that it was cheap. It was the cheapest way.
I mean, look at this, Tammy -- on natural gas -- there are 8 million vehicles in the world on natural gas. I mean, this is a technology that is well-known. The biggest fleet of buses in the world is Beijing on natural gas -- over 4,000 buses. I visited Beijing Transit last year; I was in China and spent several hours over at Beijing Transit. I mean, the technology -- everybody knows the technology. And out of the 8 million vehicles in the United States, we only have 142,000. Why? Why? I can tell you why, because oil was so cheap. And we sat here and said send us the oil, never mind the price. And then one day it went vertical, and when it did everybody said, whoa, that isn't what I signed up for. And so then everybody started looking.
Now, from our polling and everything else, the American people know something is wrong. They are now saying drill in the OCS -- I saw over 70 percent said you should drill in the OCS; we've got to do something about this foreign oil. That is true, you've got to do something about it, and it's a crash program that has to take place like today, not tomorrow.
Q: So Mr. Pickens, you've now got these foot soldiers -- which by the way is feeling like another Texan I used to know, Ross Perot -- what are you going to do with all these foot soldiers?
Pickens: Oh, we're in communication and we're going to work together; we're in lockstep. You watch what happens, because you know, we approved a $58 million budget for this project, and that is going to take us till the first of the year. And then we'll look and see if we want to budget for next year. But you're going to get one wave of this and then another wave; we've got another wave coming up next week.
Q: Well, we'll be looking forward to it. T. Boone Pickens, always a pleasure to talk to you.
Pickens: Thank you, Tammy.