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Larry Thomas

Pickens still fighting for natural gas tax credit

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ATLANTA - T. Boone Pickens brought his natural gas crusade to the recent Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals conference here, and the feisty oilman said he has only begun to fight for his pet project - a tax credit for trucking companies that convert their fleets to natural gas powered vehicles.
     His proposal made it to Congress this spring, but the lifelong Republican was disgusted when GOP members of the Senate led the fight against it.
     "I only got six Republicans to vote for it," he fumed during a presentation to about 2,000 logistics professionals. "But the Koch brothers didn't want it ... so it didn't pass."
     The billionaire Koch brothers, who own companies in the coal and mining industries, are likely to clash with the 84-year-old Pickens again, as he told conference attendees he's not about to abandon his effort to convert the nation's 18-wheelers to natural gas power.
     "It's clean. It's cheap. It's abundant. And it's domestic," Pickens said. "The U.S. has natural gas reserves that are three times the oil reserves the Saudis claim to have."
     Pickens said that converting diesel trucks to natural gas makes economic sense because the cost of natural gas is half that of diesel fuel. Plus, it would benefit the economy by creating thousands of jobs in the U.S., and make the environment cleaner by removing tons of pollutants.
     He said powering the nation's 18-wheelers with natural gas would eliminate the need to import any oil from the Middle East, where the U.S. now gets 4.5 million of the 10 million barrels of oil it imports daily. (The U.S. imports about half of its daily oil needs.)
     It should be noted that Pickens' motives for supporting natural gas are not entirely altruistic. He's an investor in a natural gas supplier called Clean Energy Fuels, and that company's CEO, Andrew Littlefair, appeared with him at the supply chain event.
     But Pickens stressed that his plan would create thousands of jobs at home.
     "I'd like to see us form an alliance with Canada and Mexico (which also have considerable oil and gas reserves) and get the hell out of the Middle East," Pickens said. "We don't have to be there."
     He cited an effort in California to convert garbage trucks to natural gas as a model for his plan. Pickens said California offers garbage truck owners $50,000 in tax incentives when they sell an older diesel truck and replace it with a natural gas vehicle.
     "This year, 55% of the trash trucks purchased there are natural gas, and I think it will be higher next year (when an improved 11.9-liter truck engine becomes available)," he said. "They're going about it the right way."
     The Pickens plan for 18-wheelers would give trucking companies tax subsidies for converting vehicles to CNG - compressed natural gas - and provide similar incentives for companies that build CNG fueling stations. The incentives would be paid for with a tax on each gallon of CNG.
     His plan became an amendment to a two-year transportation funding bill that made it to the floor of the Senate. In March, the Senate voted in favor of the amendment 51-47, but it failed due to Senate rules requiring 60 votes to pass amendments to the bill.
     Opponents - mostly Republicans - said natural gas didn't deserve special tax treatment and argued that free market forces should be allowed to determine what fuels are used.
     "If you think there's a free market for oil, you're kidding yourself," Pickens retorted. "You want to know why I'm so good at predicting oil prices? I listen to what the (Saudi Arabian oil minister) says, wait two weeks, and predict what he said. The price is basically whatever the Saudis want it to be."
     Without the natural gas amendment, the transportation bill passed the Senate and was signed into law by President Obama in July.

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