With gas at less than $3 a barrel, it is hard to get fired up
about a new national energy plan. We are all still worn out from the overly
politicized process that brought about only modest change in the health care
system. But waiting until global demand exceeds supply will undoubtedly lead us
to scramble for solutions that are, in all likelihood, not going to be
We need a practical strategy right now to dramatically reduce
our need for foreign oil, one that doesn't just provide "feel good" solutions
that appeal to our instincts to protect the earth. We send almost one billion
dollars per day overseas to buy oil ó that is every single day! If it is not
obvious, one billion dollars invested each day in education, the environment
and economic development would have an immediate and profound impact on our
quality of life and our ability to compete long term.
Time is not on our side here. The U.S. consumes about 20
million of the 80-plus million barrels of oil produced across the globe each
day, yet we only produce about nine million barrels of oil per day. We just
can't sustain this level of oil consumption and still have a thriving economy.
Frankly, I am not in the mood to wait 10 years in
anticipation that we reinvent our energy supply around green or renewable
sources. Yes, I know this will happen sometime in the future, I just don't want
the U.S. to transfer trillions of dollars to other nations before battery
technology is mature enough for prime time.
We need to implement strategies right now to utilize the
energy that is available to us from domestic sources. I recently had the unique
opportunity to listen to T. Boone Pickens at a small gathering. Pickens made
his name in the 1980s as a corporate raider. He has made and lost several
fortunes over his lifetime, but that's really no disgrace here in Texas.
As part of the so-called Pickens Plan (you have no doubt seen
the commercials), Pickens wants Congress to pass a series of tax credits and
other incentives for things like purchasing or manufacturing natural gas
vehicles ó particularly for city buses, heavy-lift trucks and long-haul
vehicles. You see, unlike oil, the U.S. is sitting on vast amounts of natural
gas that is now available through clever new horizontal drilling and hydraulic
fracturing technologies. Boone and Congress may have accomplished some of this
by the time you read this column. (Disclaimer: Boone is in the natural gas
business and he plans to make money. But I've used this column before to make
the simple point that great ideas frequently come from people who earn a profit
Natural-gas-powered vehicles are a stable and ready-to-go
technology. China is buying as many natural-gas-powered buses as it can get its
hands on. So should we. The rapid expansion of this
industry will create jobs right here in America and will recycle our energy
dollars back into our own economy.
In a new workable national energy bill, we don't need to hit
homeruns; we can win this game by hitting singles. Natural gas may not be the
ultimate sexy green energy source we are all hoping for, but it is greener than
diesel, time tested, and most importantly, ours.
Californiaís plan to mandate an electric vehicle market isnít the first such undertaking and certainly wonít be the last. But as the Golden State ratchets up for its next big step toward zero-emission vehicle status in 2018, it might be wise to consider a bit of history.