T. Boone’s Boondoggle
T. Boone Pickens is clearly a man on a mission. The iconic billionaire—whose plan for energy independence aims to transform America’s transportation and utility infrastructures—will spend nearly $60 million promoting the Pickens Plan over the airwaves and through lobbying. But many are questioning whether his real mission is adding to his $3 billion dollar fortune.
For the past few years, Pickens has been investing heavily in natural gas and compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicle technology. He owns the largest provider of natural gas for transportation in the United States, Clean Energy Fuels, and is a partner in a $160 million project to develop a mass-market CNG powered car. Combine that with Pickens’ investments in wind energy companies and you can be sure that every dollar spent implementing this plan will mean more money in his pockets.
The first major test of the Pickens Plan will come in the form of a referendum on the California ballot this November. Proposition 10 would authorize $5 billion in bonds to be paid back over a 30-year period—at a total cost of nearly $10 billion. More than half of the money would be devoted to encouraging the spread of CNG cars and trucks in a state that has proven itself more than willing to consider alternative vehicles. Pickens sunk nearly $8 million into promoting the initiative.
Proposition 10′s Key Provisions:
- $2.9 billion in incentives of up to $50,000 toward purchases of certain high fuel economy and alternative fuel vehicles.
- $1 billion devoted to research, development and production of renewable energy technology (likely to be focused on wind and solar energy.)
- $250 million in incentives towards the purchase of renewable energy technology.
- $150 million in college grants aimed at training students in renewable energy
and alternative fuel technologies.
“Billionaire Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens, listed by Forbes as the 131st richest American, really, really wants your money. So much so that his natural-gas fueling company has shelled out 3.2 million to further the reprehensible scam known as Proposition 10.”
Most of the $2.9 billion in incentives are targeted toward CNG vehicle purchasers—both private and commercial—but a $2,000 rebate would also help to offset the cost of any vehicle that exceeds 45 mpg in fuel efficiency.
Although Prop 10 may seem like an environmentalist’s dream come true, there are several reasons why most of California’s most prominent environmental advocacy groups oppose the plan. The Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, and Union of Concerned Scientists are against its adoption, citing the huge profits its main sponsor stands to reap from its passage, and the fact that compressed natural gas is a non-renewable fossil fuel which contributes to global warming.
For Pickens and his supporters, the more important energy issues are energy security and the economy. Consumers have been severely impacted by rising gasoline prices. And the United States purchases most of its petroleum from regimes they see as hostile to America.
There’s also the question of where these CNG vehicles would come from and how long it would take them to get here. Right now the Honda Civic GX is the only CNG vehicle available to consumers in the US, but Honda has failed to step up production of the Civic GX despite the enthusiastic response the vehicle has received in the US. “Honda has not only put a quota on the Honda Civic GX of 90 units per month, they actually stopped producing them when they sold out the quota,” said Edwin Black, author of Internal Combustion, in an interview with HybridCars.com. “Honda redlines most cities in America and will not sell the Honda Civic GX.”
“ The attempt by California’s Prop 10 to legislate into existence a market for natural gas vehicles would unnecessarily add pressure to drill and is a poor investment in times of scarce public dollars. ”
Proposition 10 is also not the only green referendum on the ballot in California this year. Proposition 1 would invest $9.95 billion toward an ultra-fast, zero-emissions rail network that would run from Sacramento to San Diego. Proposition 7 focuses on reshaping the state’s electricity infrastructure around solar.
Californians have a record of being ahead of the curve on environmental issues. With so many ideas circulating for how to get the state off carbon-spewing technologies and on to renewable energy, it’s more of a question of “how” than “if.” There are many technology paths to cleaner transportation—hybrids, plug-in hybrids, electric cars, biofuels, mass transit, setting technology-agnostic standards, etc. Why support a plan that is lopsided toward CNG? Moreover, Proposition 10′s critics say that spending most of a $5 billion bond on what is fundamentally a non-renewable energy—and that would largely benefit the bill’s individual sponsor—is not the answer.