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Power broker

T. Boone Pickens shows the Missouri Energy Summit his plan for refueling America

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  • Story by Karen Pojmann
  • Photos by Boyd Harris and Nic Benner
  • Published: April 9, 2009
T. Boone Pickens

T. Boone Pickens is the keynote speaker for the April 22-23 Missouri Energy Summit. This photo illustration by Josh Nichols depicts Pickens and wind turbines located at the Cow Branch Wind Energy Center in Atchison County, Mo.

For an 80-year-old billionaire Republican Texas oil tycoon, T. Boone Pickens has embarked on some pretty radical undertakings lately. In the past decade he has channeled his wealth — acquired largely at the helm of Mesa Petroleum — into charitable pursuits and clean-energy initiatives. In the past year, he has positioned himself as a force of environmental activism to be reckoned with.

Earlier this month, Pickens organized not just a protest-imagery-evoking march on Washington but a thoroughly modern virtual march on Washington. More than 4.5 million Americans took part in the three-day onslaught of e-mail, Twitter, Facebook and, yes, print communiqué aimed at urging government leaders to adopt his blueprint for clean, all-American energy, known as the Pickens Plan.

Later this month, a whirlwind tour of university campuses brings Pickens to Mizzou, where he’ll deliver the keynote address at the University of Missouri System’s Missouri Energy Summit.

Man with a plan

For Pickens, this is no time for political squabbling or lollygagging. The state of the nation’s economy is grim. Our fuel of choice, oil, is a finite and rapidly dwindling resource. Though constituting a mere 4 percent of the world’s population, Americans use 25 percent of the world’s oil and import 67 percent of it—mostly from not-so-U.S.-friendly countries. Meanwhile wind and natural gas are abundant and — if channeled quickly and properly into electricity and auto fuel, Pickens says — could sustain the nation.

“The plan is going to become the energy plan for America. We’ve gone 40 years with no plan. If we don’t do anything, and, say, we go forward 10 years just as we have in the past, we will be importing 75 percent of our oil, and we’ll be paying $300 a barrel for it,” Pickens told Mizzou Wire in a phone interview days before the virtual march began. “There’s only two things that can happen: Take our plan and go forward with it, or sit there, dumb, and you’ve got foreign oil.”

Pickens is known for straight talk. It has helped him rally a “Pickens Plan Army” of supporters and earn a seat at the table with leaders such as President Barack Obama. He had plenty of it for Mizzou Wire readers as well, excerpted here.

His own words

The role of universities in energy reform

Everybody is going to have to get educated on energy to some level. It’s going to be such an issue that you’re going to feel stupid if you don’t know what you’re faced with.

It will require research. Universities are going to be a big part of it. You’re going to educate your people, and they’re going to want to enjoy being in a clean, green economy. It’s a great amount of opportunity.

Leading a grass-roots movement

This will be a classroom case study of how the grass roots really can make something happen. When you start getting millions of people pushing for something, you will have the attention of Washington, which will give starch to the leadership. But you also have Obama, and look at what he’s said. He said he’s going to do renewables. OK, he’s doing them. He also says in 10 years we will not be importing any oil from the Mid-East or Venezuela. If he’s going to do that, then he must have a plan. And the only plan that he’s got is my plan.

You have to have the renewables in it — wind and solar. You have to have a 21st-century grid too, and that will make your power transmission more efficient by up to 25 percent. All these things are coming together. [Obama] put the grid and the solar and the wind into his stimulus package. The rest of my plan will go in the energy bill, which will be coming up [for a vote] before Memorial Day. We’re moving right along.  If this all turns out like I think it’s going to, this is going to be one huge idea that came up by a guy from the grass roots. It didn’t come up by Washington.

The tipping point

If you listen to Al Gore, he says there’s a tipping point. If you go back to the Civil Rights Movement in the ‘60s, the tipping point is when we hosed people down in Alabama who were not hostile at all; they were making a very peaceful march. This is Gore telling me the story: He said children didn’t understand why, and they asked their parents, and the parents didn’t understand either. We’re doing something that doesn’t make sense. It’s not right; it’s not fair. Here, we’re at a tipping point where we want to recover our energy destiny. Today the rest of the world thinks we’re crazy that we’re depending on our enemy to supply us oil. I mean, we look like a fool. Why are we doing it? Cheap oil. It’s always cheap oil that puts us in this spot.

Biofuels and hybrids

Biofuels are fine, but biofuels will not move an 18-wheeler. You only have one resource that’s going to make that 18-wheeler move, and that’s natural gas. It’s cleaner and cheaper and abundant, and it’s ours.  Biofuels – sure, I’m fine with that. But you can’t get to the volume. We import 12 million barrels of oil a day, and I think biofuels today is about 600,000 barrels. You’ve got to get the big numbers.

You just have to look at the total picture. With Obama, I was with him, and I said, “You’re really proud of the fact that you’re going to have 1 million plug-in hybrids in 10 years.” He said, “Yes, I am. I’m going to do that.” I said, “That’s fine, but now if you’re looking out the window at that parking lot and there’s 1 million cars out there, that is going to look like a hell of a lot of cars. Now step back and look at the United States. We have 250 million vehicles, and we’re pouring out 15 million a year. And you’re going to have 1 million in 10 years?” There was a pause, and he said, “That’s not very many, is it?” No. You’ve got to look at the total picture to realize that the predicament we’ve put the country in is huge. You have to go for volume.

Rock Port, Mo., a wind-powered town

There you’ve got leadership. Somebody came up with the idea and was able to sell the idea. People accepted it and realized this was the right thing to do. That’s going to happen nationwide. We’re going to get off the foreign dependency.

It’s like planting a tree. The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. In case you didn’t get it planted, the second-best time is today.  But get your oar in the water and get started, and quit talking about it.

April fool

You need to know when I’m at Mizzou I’m going to announce that in the 2012 presidential election I will be a candidate.   

I’m teasing. I’m 80 years old. I’m not running for anything. That caused you to think, though, when I said it.

On April 22, Pickens comes to the MU campus to present the Pickens Plan. His keynote address to the University of Missouri System’s Missouri Energy Summit begins at 12:15 p.m. in Jesse Auditorium. Admission is free and open to the public. Advance registration is required.

Read more in:  Agriculture & the EnvironmentOn CampusBusiness, Law & PoliticsScience & TechnologySpecial Features & Series

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Last updated: Feb. 22, 2012