T. Boone Pickens

I interviewed the billionaire conservative oilman for Salon. My article and the interview are now online here. My goal was not to trip him up with the flaws in his plan, but just to explore some of the key issues, especially the role of government in making it happen.

Talking to him it is clear he is very genuinely concerned about the impoverishment we face on our current laissez-faire energy path — a $10 trillion transfer of wealth from Americans to the rest of the world over the next decade, ending with $300 a barrel oil.

But I simply couldn’t get him to acknowledge that or all his claims that his proposal is nonpartisan, it is his fellow conservatives who stand in the way of achieving his dream. The subtitle of the piece tells the story: “The oil tycoon’s support of John McCain for president demonstrates that his heavily advertised plan for wind power is only hot air.”

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Pickens says, “The government’s going to have to provide corridors to transmit the wind energy to the east and west coast … Second you need to put a 10-year production tax credit.”

I couldn’t agree more. But then again, I’m not in Congress. So I asked him the obvious political question: If you looked at the votes in the last year that have held up just a one-year extension of the production tax credit, the vast majority of Republicans have consistently voted against that, while the vast majority of Democrats voted for it. “So let me ask you, how do we, how do we get Republicans to support that kind of investment in renewables.”

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Salon sharply edited down Pickens’ rambling answer to my key question, but I think it is worthwhile to see the whole thing:

Well, you’re, I think you do it with your people and it all has to take place between today and the first election then you go in 100 days, and it has to go in 100 days to be able to do what I’m saying do, and if we don’t get it in there, you know, I just say the hell with it, just let it go. However it’s not going to go because in 10 years you’re gonna have $300 oil, you’ll be importing 80 percent of your oil and you’ll be forever crippled, so if you can, if you can make them understand in Congress, Republicans and Democrats both that this is not a partisan issue

In short, blah, blah, blah.

Pickens just can’t bring himself to oppose the people who mock and block his plan, the people whose policies he says will leave this country “forever crippled.” In fact, he keeps throwing money at them.

In the year ending June 30, Pickens gave nearly $100,000 to Republican party candidates and organizations, but nothing — zilch — to the Democratic Party. He has thrown $38,500 to the Republican National Committee and $14,250 to the National Republican Senatorial Campaign, even though the Senate failed to stop a filibuster by the Republicans who were blocking the renewable energy tax credits that Pickens knows we desperately need. Heck, Pickens has given $4,600, the maximum allowed by law, to Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the global warming denier who opposes all alternatives to fossil fuels.

The Wonkroom reports on an exchange between Pickens and CAPAF President John Podesta at a recent panel:

At the end of the conversation, Podesta and Pickens talked about their political differences. Pickens … admitted he is inclined to defend oil companies, who work for their shareholders and are run by his friends. When challenged by Podesta for having given significant contributions to “the gang on Capitol Hill who have been blocking the renewable production tax credit,” Pickens, with resignation apparent in his face, said, “I grind on themI don’t have the time.” He argued that he is now trying to act on behalf of the American people, to avoid being partisan, to move past the old politics — the politics that he has spent millions to sustain.

In short, blah, blah, blah.

And then there’s the man Pickens has said he is supporting for president, John McCain. The Arizonan has been one of the most consistent opponents of renewable electricity in the Senate, even though his state has some of the largest renewable resources in the country.

McCain missed eight straight votes on extending renewable tax credits for just one year; his spokesman made clear he would’ve voted against the tax credits had he bothered to show up.

Even after meeting with Pickens, McCain told a town hall last month

This is where Mr. Pickens and I disagree a little bit … We all love solar. Is there anybody that doesn’t love solar power? But when we look at the actual contributions, compared with the increased demand for energy that’s gonna be part of American in the next 20 years, it does not meet much of those demands.

Pickens believes wind by itself could pretty much meet all those demands — as does the Bush administration’s own Department of Energy.

An important aside: If McCain believes what he is saying about clean technology, then his plan to require the United States to cut fossil fuel emissions 60 percent to 70 percent in four decades is obviously a fraud, aimed at capturing the votes of gullible moderates.

If you back McCain and the GOP, then you must want energy policies that will leave this country forever crippled economically, forever vulnerable to the whims of the oil-producing nations like Russia, Venezuela, and the Persian Gulf states. Until Pickens puts his money behind progressive politicians, then his quest for progressive policies will remain an impossible dream.

Read the Salon piece and listen to the interview here.

This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.