John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


The Bus Test and the Picken’s Plan

Posted on October 13, 2009
Back when I was a more consistent runner, I used to hate running behind big buses, especially in the summer time. The fumes from their exhaust would make me sick to my stomach.

Many of the buses in Washington D.C. are now powered by natural gas, which doesn’t have the noxious fumes. These newer buses are better for environment and better the lungs of runners everywhere.

I was thinking about black smoke as I ate lunch with T. Boone Pickens today. Mr. Pickens is pushing his plan to wean our nation off of its foreign oil addiction by increasing incentives to use more natural gas. Pickens is a canny businessman and he obviously has a vested interest in his plan to increase the use of natural gas in America.

But his plan makes sense for several reasons, one of which is the bus test.

If you had a choice between running behind a bus that spewed black spoke as it moved past you or one that didn’t spew any smoke at all, which one would you choose?

That’s not a trick question.

For Boone Pickens, though, it isn’t just about the bus-smoke test.

It is about American national security. He believes that our current energy situation, where we import so much of our energy from people who don’t like us very much (like the Venezuelans, the Saudis etc.), is not very sustainable long-term.

And if the Saudis go through with their plan to back efforts to move away from dollar-centric monetary system to a basket of currencies that include the Euro and the Chinese renminbi, it would prove Boone’s point. These folks aren’t looking out for our best interests, so we ought to take steps to look after our own.

The Pickens plan has a variety of tax credits and incentives to get us to use more natural gas. For example, his plan requires that all federal vehicles use natural gas, it extends the alternative fuel tax credit, and it creates natural gas vehicle bonds.

It is unlikely, given the nature of American society, that we can make the average consumer us natural gas cars, especially in the short term. It is also unlikely that natural gas is a long-term solution (by long-term, over 50 years). There probably isn’t enough of it to last forever.

But it will be an effective transitional strategy for the next 50 years.

And we can immediately take some steps today that will ease our dependence on foreign oil, and put us in a better bargaining position with the Saudis in the future. For example, we can immediately mandate that all public buses use natural gas. That move will strike a blow for the environment and for runners everywhere.

It can also be a huge job-creator.

The more we move to transition to natural gas, the more Americans we can put back to work.

We can design a cash-for-clunkers type programs for trucks in this country. Give our trucking companies real incentives to switch from diesel to natural gas.

Natural gas is much cleaner than diesel, much cheaper, and better for the environment.

The energy debates waxes and wanes on the national consciousness. When energy prices are high, lawmakers get religion on the issue. They propose solutions that seemingly threaten OPEC’s oil hegemony. OPEC usually responds by increasing production and cutting prices.

They continue to yank our chain because they know that we won’t make any real changes to our national policy once prices drop.

For policy-makers, there is no better time to seize the initiative on energy policy. This is not just an environmental issue or a gas price issue. This is a jobs issue.

We passed cash-for-clunkers in time flat. The Obama Administration ought to take the Pickens Plan and use it for its own devices. It should package it as a real stimulus package, one that will create real jobs, just as it protects the environment.

And it will make jogging easier for joggers everywhere.