WASHINGTON – In T. Boone Pickens' war on terror, the enemy is foreign oil.
Pickens, the Republican Texas oil mogul, testified Tuesday before a Senate panel to lay out his new, self-titled "Pickens Plan" to boost renewable energy sources, get the U.S. transportation sector off oil and cut U.S. use of foreign petroleum.
Pickens told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee that aside from getting away from foreign oil, he's for just about anything, from electric cars — like those advocated by Al Gore — to offshore drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Recalling a conversation he recently had with Gore, Pickens told the panel: "I said, 'I'm for everything that's American.' ... I only have one enemy, and that's foreign oil. That's what I want to get rid of."
He added: "I am convinced we are paying for both sides of the Iraqi war."
Making the change is necessary, Pickens said, because continuing to rely on foreign oil will result in $300 per barrel price at America's current consumption trends. He also said he believes U.S. national security is in dire straits with roughly $700 billion annually heading overseas to the Middle East and unfriendly countries like Venezuela in exchange for crude.
Pickens said installing wind farms, and later solar power facilities in the midsection of the United States, with government help, could produce 20 percent of electricity consumed domestically. That would alleviate the need to use natural gas to make electricity.
Under the Pickens Plan, natural gas along with biofuels would power all transportation, reducing foreign oil dependence — according to Pickens' numbers — by one-third.
Another panelist warned that Pickens' sketch is by no means flawless, although he agreed with the principle that America is far too dependent on foreign energy sources and should boost the use of renewable energy.
Gal Luft, executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, said countries like Russia, Iran and Persian Gulf states have the majority of world natural gas reserves, "so shifting our transportation sector from oil to natural gas is like jumping from the frying pan to the fire. This is a spectacular bad idea. ... We don't want to give at this point in time a gift to Iran."
Luft said reliance on oil dependence can't be reduced until the U.S. inreases its use of electric cars. He also also criticized Pickens' assumption that wind and solar power can simply replace natural gas.
"Our energy system is not a Lego," Luft said. "You don't take one cube and replace it with another. ... Nothing guarantees that it will displace natural gas. It could displace coal. It could displace solar. ... How do you control what the wind will displace?"
In his remarks, Pickens laid out a dire outlook for the United States, with foreign oil use continually rising up in the United States.
"This is more than a disturbing trend line. It is a recipe for national disaster. ... This is a crisis that cannot be left to the next generation to solve," Pickens said.
As far as oil prices go, he said that if nothing changes, "I have to think in 10 years, the demand for oil — because the price now is going up — in 10 years, you're going to have $300 oil. Maybe higher, I don't know."
"If we continue to drift like we're drifting, you're going to be importing 80 percent of your oil. And I promise you, it'll be over $300 a barrel," Pickens said, responding to a question from committee chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman. "If we do nothing, it's going to be over the top," Pickens said.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are under increasing pressure to take legislative action on energy prices hovering around record prices, something Lieberman took note of in his opening remarks.
Despite his dark predictions, Pickens' plan was received warmly on Capitol Hill. Lieberman described it as "can-do" and "bold."
The Pickens Plan is a "classically American message of honesty, determination and can-do optimism. ... The plan has attracted attention because it is bold," said Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.
"Apparently, it took $4 a gallon gasoline ... to make all of us angry and anxious enough to get serious about breaking our national dependency on foreign oil," he said.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, likened his plan to President Kennedy's call to land a man on the moon, and Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, called it "music to my ears."
Collins later said: "I'm very excited about Boone Pickens' plan, but I don't think it's the whole plan."
Among the things Pickens is looking for are tax incentives for industry such as the production tax credit. He said extending that measure for 10 years would create the stability for companies need to invest in long-term projects.
The Economist magazine last week reported that Pickens' plan isn't entirely altruistic, however. According to the magazine, Pickens' company Mesa Power has invested $2 billion in a Texas panhandle wind farm. But Pickens, chairman and founder of BP Capital Management, also regularly points out he doesn't need the money.
One of Pickens' companies also owns about 90 of the roughly 500 publicly available natural gas stations with another of his companies, Clean Energy.
Pickens' appearance before the committee was only one of several scheduled appearances in Washington. In what four years ago might have ended in a public pillorying, Pickens on Tuesday was also to meet with the House Democratic Caucus. Pickens made no friends among the group with his 2004 backing of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign, which sought to sink Sen. John Kerry's presidential bid.
Pickens told the Politico newspaper in Tuesday editions that he's getting attention from both sides of the aisle, and hopes to get the current presidential field to pay attention: He wants his plan put in place within the first 100 days of the next administration.
He also told the paper he feels like this is his contribution to help the country.
"I didn't want to come and go in this life and feel like I had something that would've helped the country. So I thought, 'What the hell, it's time to stand up and be counted,' " Pickens said, as quoted by Politico.