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Pickens: Greener U.S. would boost security, economy

  • Story Highlights
  • Pickens: Natural gas the only alternative fuel that can "move an 18-wheeler"
  • Billionaire says U.S. has had "zero energy plan" for 40 years
  • He says he has discussed energy with Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, Al Gore
  • Wind power infrastructure alone could create millions of jobs, he says
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Billionaire T. Boone Pickens says he doesn't know "where bottom is" regarding the U.S. economy, but he believes weaning America off foreign oil will create jobs and improve national security.

T. Boone Pickens says he has spoken to Barack Obama, and the president-elect knows what needs to be done.

T. Boone Pickens says he has spoken to Barack Obama, and the president-elect knows what needs to be done.

The upcoming Barack Obama administration gets it, said the chairman of BP Capital Management during an interview with CNN chief national correspondent John King on Thursday.

King and Pickens talked about politics, Pickens' new book, "The First Billion is the Hardest" and the billionaire's Pickens Plan -- which proposes developing alternative sources of energy, including natural gas, wind and solar.

King: If you remember those ads on TV, they were urging Americans to get off [their] addiction to foreign oil. T. Boone Pickens, thanks for being with us. Let's start with your thoughts -- you met the man, President-elect Obama -- your thoughts on him in the context of, do you think he will do what you think is necessary when it comes to energy independence.

Pickens: You know, I had an hour-plus visit with him on energy, very good meeting. And I think he understands what has to be done. What we have to do is to get off of foreign oil, not totally. That's going to be extremely hard to do. But I think you can reduce it very comfortably 30 percent within 10 years.

Now, remember, John, we've gone 40 years with no energy plan. Zero energy plan.

King: In the context of this -- and I don't think anybody disputes the crisis and the need to act urgently -- but now versus before this financial meltdown, in terms of government resources to do what you think needs to be done, does that hurt your effort and hurt the cause that the government essentially has a lot less money and a lot less optimism that more money will be coming in in the middle of all of this?

Pickens: Well, with the price coming down -- when I opened on July 8, the price of gasoline was $4.11. That's when I launched [the Pickens Plan]. And now we're half that.

Does it hurt? You know, really, the cheaper the gas price goes, the better it helps the country. No question. But we're importing exactly the same amount of oil today as we did back on July 8. See how you can make America greener »

So the security issue has not changed a bit. The economic issue has. It's cheaper now to import. But we cannot continue to do this.

King: Gas is cheaper, but the government doesn't have much more money. When they do talk about spending more money, now they're talking about spending it on economic stimulus. Is that short-sighted in your view? Should we get to the bigger long-term issues like energy infrastructure?

Pickens: You've got to fix the energy issue because just look at the 40 years that have passed. No energy plan, zero. If we go forward for 10 years with no energy plan, we got the picture in the last year. Go back five years and the [Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries] nations' revenues were $250 billion. This year, 2008, will be $1.25 trillion.

Now go forward 10 years and say we have no energy plan; we will be importing at that point 75 percent of our oil, which is a huge security problem for America. And we will be paying $300 a barrel for the oil.

King: You say President-elect Obama gets the urgency. Does he get the details? This is a very complicated issue. Do you think he has a grasp of it? Or are there people close and around him that do?

Pickens: Well, it's not that complicated. Because we only have one resource in America that can reduce, actually reduce foreign oil. Now, what is it? Natural gas. There are only three fuels that will move an 18-wheeler: diesel, gasoline and natural gas. We don't have diesel and gasoline, but we do have natural gas.

Now, what a lot of people want to do is get to the battery as quick as they can or the fuel cell. Battery won't move an 18-wheeler. So I want to see all of the trucks, all new trucks, not retro-fit trucks, but all new trucks go to natural gas.

King: You talk about the energy part of the debate. If you pick up a newspaper in recent days, Vice President [Al] Gore has this big newspaper campaign. He's going to start a new effort on the climate change. He's talking more about the climate change.

You're talking about the dependence. Are there places where you guys are at odds? Or is this something where you are in sync? He talks about climate change, and he believes in a green economic revolution, creating all of these new jobs. Are you at odds with that at all, or is this actually a marriage?

Pickens: If you do the wind corridor, that I'm for, which is from Texas to Canada, that, the first year, will create 168,000 jobs. In 10 years, it'll be 3 million jobs. So Al and I see a lot of things on the same level. He wants to cut out the carbon footprint. I say the natural gas will take you to -- it's the bridge to what Al wants to do. So when Al and I have lunch and talk, we agree on a lot of things.

King: I asked you before the break about your impressions of President-elect Obama, whom you've met. You've also spent some time with Rahm Emanuel at town hall. I think it was back in October. You know him well. He's about to be the White House chief of staff. Is he a man you trust to handle the issues you care most about?

Pickens: Well, I knew Rahm back in the Clinton administration years, so we go back a long way. A very smart guy and he understands. He introduced me at the town hall in Chicago. And then we had a two-hour lunch afterward. But we had talked about this subject quite a bit before. So he understands the energy issue and that's good.

King: Let me ask you to lift your eyes up a bit from the specifics of the energy issue to where we are as a country. You've been involved in the economy for a long time. Some good times and some bad times.

Pickens: Eighty years long.

King: Most Americans are having some pretty bad times right now. When you look out at this financial mess -- the market I think has lost 10 percent in the last two days -- where are we? And where are we going?

Pickens: I don't know where bottom is. You know, you're feeling for it. But I don't know where it is, for sure. Sure, I've been through several, '70s, '80s, '90s, all of them had recessions. I wonder how long this is going -- this is much different.

This is all being engineered by [Federal Reserve Chairman Ben] Bernanke and [Treasury Secretary Henry] Paulson. And I'm ready to go with them. The guys know a hell of a lot more about it than I do. But I don't know, but we will come out of it.

King: What's your advice to a new president at a time like this? You mentioned you have confidence enough, it sounds like, in Paulson and Bernanke. What does a new president do?

You're from left of center party that has some ideas that involve spending money, and yet you have an economy that's in a rut, if not the tank.

Pickens: I don't know. I'd like to have had the job that President Obama has now. Not at my age, but at a time --

King: You want to help? You think you can have a role in an Obama administration officially?

Pickens: You know, sure, I mean I would do anything for this country. But enough said on that point. He is really coming into a very, very tough situation. It's not easy.

King: What is the one thing you would do if you were him?

Pickens: If I were him?

King: Yes, to inspire confidence. Two-thirds of the economy is just getting people out to spend, but you can't spend if you don't know if your job is going to be there.

Pickens: I like the green economy. I think you can turn the country -- Ted Turner said that two or three years ago. He said, when we have the green economy, we will have the best economy we ever had in America. I think there are parts of that that are right. I think you can adjust it. But we've got a lot to look forward to.

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King: Optimistic voice from T. Boone Pickens. The book is "The First Billion's The Hardest." It is for me so far.

Pickens: Well, I was 70 before I made it, John, so I plowed for a long time.

All About T. Boone PickensEnergy PolicyRahm EmanuelBarack Obama

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