Thursday, August 21, 2008

Why T. Boone Pickens' 'Clean Energy' Plan Is a Ponzi Scheme

By Scott Thill, AlterNet

"If you are going out of business, you don't go down with the ship, you get another ship. For us, it's natural gas." -- T. Boone Pickens, "Becoming a Billionaire"

You can't always get what you want, the Rolling Stones counseled. But if you try sometimes, you get what you need. Factor billions of dollars, questionable loyalties and a privatization rap sheet invested more in profit than people into the equation, and you usually can get both what you want and what you need. In the case of hyper-loaded oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, that means having your cake on climate crisis, fossil fuel addiction, eminent domain, water privatization and corporate earnings -- and eating it too.

In July, the oil magnate unveiled a well-publicized campaign, the Pickens Plan, which begins with an obvious premise: "America is addicted to foreign oil." Pickens' proposal to kick the habit is straightforward and simple: "Building new wind-generation facilities and better utilizing our natural gas resources can replace more than one-third of our foreign oil imports in 10 years."

Sounds fair enough, especially given that Pickens and climate-crisis herald Al Gore have melded minds on the issue. But not hard enough, which is where the cracks in the Pickens Plan begin. "(Gore) asked if we could we join together and do something," Pickens explained to Bloomberg News. "I told him no, because global warming is on page two for me. Page one is foreign oil.''

That page seems to be recently written. As previously noted on either side of the red-blue divide, Pickens has funneled millions into 527s like Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, helping derail John Kerry's bid for the White House in 2004. He simultaneously committed hundreds of thousands on top of that to the election and inauguration of both Bush administrations, both spearheaded by fossil fools whose kinship with foreign oil producers not only launched an invasion into an oil-rich but nevertheless sovereign nation, but also nearly tripled the price of oil in seven years and handed campaign contributors like Exxon the most bloated earnings in corporate history.

Sure, Pickens eventually decided to stop funding political campaigns, but that deathbed conversion happened the same July that the Pickens Plan ramped up its nearly $60 million media blitz.

It gets worse. Pickens is currently the head of BP Capital Management, a secretive hedge fund (aren't they all?) that has extensive connections to the magnate's hated "foreign oil" interests. The most glaring example from its investment portfolio is Halliburton, which was once run by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, is currently headquartered not in America but Dubai, and whose main business segments and subsidiaries involve oil exploration, construction, production and refining. And that's not mentioning its resume on rampant fraud and corruption, especially in Iraq but also elsewhere, which has so far cost American taxpayers billions.

But Halliburton isn't the only BP Cap holding that stinks. Pickens is also heavily invested in Schlumberger, the world's largest oil services corporation; nuclear and conventional energy powerhouse Shaw Group; the embattled ex-Halliburton subsidiary Kellog Brown and Root and so on. For a very rich man who decries the influence foreign oil has on American life, Pickens sure hasn't put his money where his mouth is. He's put his money where the oil is.

"Even under the Pickens Plan," explains Treehugger's Matthew McDermott, "the U.S. will be importing a significant amount of oil. It's a step toward energy independence in that it expands renewable energy production, but I think framing this debate in terms of energy independence isn't the way to go. If you want to take a populist angle on this, pushing the very real benefits that wind power and renewables in general can have in local economies stands on much more solid ground."

If Pickens were a populist, that might be true. But he's not; he's a stone-cold capitalist whose taste for profit outweighs his desire for the common good. Pickens may have spent $3 billion on wind farms to generate enough electricity to take the load off natural gas, which is currently used to heat homes and more, but only so that it can be used for cars and trucks.

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