New twist for Pickens in energy independence fight

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens is adding a new wrinkle to his push for U.S. energy independence: monthly updates to remind Americans how much money they’re paying for foreign oil

Pickens, a billionaire who is spending $60 million on a high-profile campaign to boost the use of wind power and natural gas, said Tuesday the updates would be a yardstick for measuring the incoming Obama administration’s progress on its goal of eliminating Middle East oil imports within a decade.

“You watch, we will elevate the interest in this,” he said.

Pickens and environmental advocate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. said oil-rich Middle East nations are using billions of U.S. energy dollars to build new schools, roads and airports while America’s infrastructure crumbles. They made the comments during a briefing at the Capitol.

Americans in December sent $19.3 billion overseas to foreign governments for their oil, said Pickens, citing government figures.

“It is outrageous that we are sending billions of dollars — $432,000 per minute — overseas to foreign countries while domestic programs at home remain severely underfunded,” said Pickens, who plans to highlight the monthly figures on his Web site.

Pickens met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and several House and Senate members to promote his plan. He urged them to include money in the economic stimulus plan they are crafting for converting 350,000 large commercial trucks such as 18-wheelers to natural gas.

“I think they are thinking about all of this very seriously,” Pickens said.

Pickens last July unveiled a plan to cut U.S. dependency on foreign oil by increasing the use of wind power and natural gas. Pickens wants to erect wind turbines in the Midwest to generate electricity, replacing the 22 percent of U.S. power produced from natural gas. The natural gas then could be used for transportation. Kennedy backs Pickens’ proposal.

Texas, California, Iowa, Minnesota and Washington are the top wind-energy producing states, according to the American Wind Energy Association. There are hundreds of proposals for wind-energy projects across the country, including plans for an offshore Cape Cod wind farm that has sparked a bitter fight in Massachusetts.

Boone last year delayed his own massive Texas wind-farm plans, blaming a lack of financing and declining petroleum prices. He’s also faced opposition from West Texas landowners.

He has urged the government to begin building transmission lines for wind-generated power or provide the right of way on private land and extend tax credits so the private sector can build the lines. Pickens has also called for a 10-year extension of a tax credit for energy producers.

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