At the Big Tent in Denver, Center for American Progress President and CEO John Podesta, Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope, and oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens engaged in a discussion about our energy future. Pickens, who believes that our global oil production is at its peak and will soon inexorably decline, discussed his “Pickens Plan” for a massive increase in wind and solar electricity production and a shift for trucking fleets from diesel to natural gas. Podesta noted that the climate crisis is evident today, in the flooding in Florida and the increasing threat of powerful hurricanes. “The cost of doing nothing,” Podesta said, “is extremely substantial.”
This panel of three highly powerful individuals from the environmental, progressive, and conservative energy industry communities represented a remarkable confluence of priorities, in recognizing the energy crisis and the need to get off oil. As Carl Pope described:
If our politics was even vaguely functional, anything that all three of us agree on would have happened long ago. We have some very deep profound political problems. Our politics are broken.
Pickens himself, a highly influential fundraiser for right-wing politicians, described how his money has gotten him access in Washington but that he had learned that his contributions don’t translate to policy. He expressed his enthusiasm for the ability of the Pickens Plan campaign to reach millions on the Internet and mobilize hundreds of thousands of people. He argued, “I’m not doing this to make money. My entire estate will go to charity when I go. We are now importing almost 70 percent of our oil. It’s too much. We’re not talking about my generation — we can make it to the finish line.”
They also aired for the audience a fifteen-second spot that was rejected by NBC censors, because, according to Pickens, the network wanted him to prove that “we’re not doing a thing here” on energy policy. Watch the rejected ad:
Pope explained what Newt Gingrich and other conservatives are really trying to do with their drill-drill-drill agenda, when they know that lifting the offshore drilling moratorium won’t deliver new oil to this country.
What is it about? It’s about distracting us from the conversation we ought to be having. As long as we’re talking about drill drill drill, it distracts Americans from the fact there’s a chasm between the two candidates. It’s a huge headfake by Karl Rove.
At the end of the conversation, Podesta and Pickens talked about their political differences. Pickens — who helped sponsor the Big Tent — admitted he is inclined to defend oil companies, who work for their shareholders and are run by his friends. When challenged by Podesta for having given significant contributions to “the gang on Capitol Hill who have been blocking the renewable production tax credit,” Pickens, with resignation apparent in his face, said, “I grind on them . . . I don’t have the time.” He argued that he is now trying to act on behalf of the American people, to avoid being partisan, to move past the old politics — the politics that he has spent millions to sustain.
All three clearly agreed that it is time for not just change in energy policy, but change in our politics — change, as Van Jones told the Wonk Room this week, that will lift people up instead of continuing to tear this country down.
Talking to him it is clear he is very genuinely concerned about the impoverishment we face on our current laissez-faire energy path — a $10 trillion transfer of wealth from Americans to rest of the world over the next decade, ending with $300 a barrel oil. But I simply couldn’t get him to acknowledge that or all his claims that his proposal is nonpartisan, it is his fellow conservatives who stand in the way of achieving his dream.