Tag Archives: energy policy

Boone Pickens calls it a career … for the final time?

T. Boone Pickens is retiring.

Reportedly for the third time. Something tells me that this is it for the legendary Texas Panhandle oil and natural gas mogul.

Pickens is 89 years of age. His health has been sketchy of late. He wrote this in a letter published on LinkedIn:

“Health-wise, I’m still recovering from a series of strokes I suffered late last year, and a major fall over the summer. If you are lucky enough to make it to 89 years of age like I have, those things tend to put life in perspective. It’s time to start making new plans and setting new priorities.”

Pickens recently put his vast Mesa Vista estate in rural Roberts County up for sale. He’s asking about $250 million for the 80,000-acre spread.

To say this man has left a huge footprint across the Texas Panhandle would be to say that Donald John Trump has, um, “changed” the presidency of the United States.

Pickens’s influence spreads far beyond the Panhandle, the region that helped him build the beginning of his immense fortune. And along the way, he made his share of enemies as well as friends. He once engaged in a notorious feud with the Amarillo Globe-News, where I worked for nearly 18 years until August 2012; Pickens’s beef with the paper predated my arrival there, but I heard all about it.

I am in neither camp. I am merely acquainted with Pickens. We have what I believe is a nice relationship. While working for a time as a “special projects reporter” for KFDA NewsChannel 10 in Amarillo, I had the pleasure of interviewing Pickens at his opulent Mesa Vista ranch.

I certainly know of the impact he has made on the region and on the world’s energy industry.

My intent with this blog post merely is to wish Pickens well as he, in his own words, begins “making new plans and setting new priorities.”

No, sir, government isn’t the same as a business

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting on three occasions with one of the smartest men in America.

T. Boone Pickens has earned a fortune in the oil and natural gas business. He knows fossil fuels better than, well, almost anyone.

The former Amarillo resident and current fossil fuel tycoon, though, misses the mark when he says that you can run government “like a business.”

Pickens has written an essay for Texas Monthly, in which he says in part: “In the late eighties and early nineties, I considered running for governor of Texas. Now a lot has changed since that time. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the need to make sure we have a government that works.

“’Can you really run a government like a business?’ I was asked at the time. ‘Sure you can,’ I replied. ‘It’s a business to start with. Taxpayers are like stockholders, and both are entitled to a full day’s work for a full day’s pay. For a dollar spent, taxpayers ought to receive a dollar back in value.’”

Pickens is as smart a businessman as anyone you’ll ever know.

But as another tycoon is learning, government is a much different animal than a business. That tycoon, Donald J. Trump — who Pickens supported wholeheartedly for president of the United States — is learning in real time that the founders established a checks and balances system for a good reason. It is to ensure that no one branch of government runs roughshod over the other two.

The crux of Pickens’ essay was to extol the need to make the United States energy independent. He’s right about that need. He’s also got a dog in that fight, given that he owns a whole lot of fossil fuel rights in the United States and stands to benefit tremendously from pumping these fuels out of the ground.

He misses another point, though. It is that we already have made huge strides toward that goal in the past eight years. The Obama administration sought to provide incentives for investment in alternative energy sources: wind, solar, hydropower, biofuels. The big spike in oil prices in recent years has prompted much more fossil fuel exploration in this country. Add to that the fuel efficiency standards mandated on automakers and you have a sort of perfect storm that weans us from foreign oil.

Back to my main point.

Business is business. Government, though, is another creature altogether. I get that Pickens desires a business-like approach to government. However, the principles one applies to running a business do not transfer straight into the act of politicking, legislating and the making of laws.

Business executives can make decisions that stick, with no questions asked. Politicians have a different platform on which they operate. They have voters to whom they must answer. They also have colleagues who might have different points of view, a differing world view. They are as wedded to their view of the world as the businessman or woman is wedded to whatever he or she believes.

The “business” of running a government requires a certain skill set that business executives need to learn. From what I’ve seen of the businessman/president, he hasn’t yet learned it.

Perhaps someone like Boone Pickens could figure it out. If only, as he said, he had less history behind him and more in front of him.

Would a Secretary Perry bring wind into U.S. energy grid?

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Let’s play out a possible scenario that, the more I think about it, sounds increasingly intriguing.

It’s the idea of naming former Texas Gov. Rick “Oops” Perry as the country’s next energy secretary.

Set aside for a moment that Perry once said he wanted to get rid of the Energy Department. His recitation of the three agencies he’d dismantle produced his infamous “oops” moment during a 2012 Republican presidential debate.

Let us also set aside that Perry once called Donald J. Trump a “cancer on conservatism.” The president-elect is considering him for this key Cabinet post anyway. Hey, Perry did end up endorsing and campaigning for Trump. I guess they’ve made up.

Perry served as Texas governor for 14 years, longer than anyone in state history. On his watch, the state managed to do something quite correct with regard to energy policy. It has become — along with California, imagine that — among the leaders in wind energy generation in America.

I’m not entirely clear on what direct role Gov. Perry played in all of that. I do know, though, that during the time he served as governor, the state’s sprawling landscape has become “decorated” with wind turbines, in many instances for as far as one can see.

The Texas Panhandle is among those places where wind power has become major “alternative energy” source.

It is as clear as can be that Perry comes from a state that also produces a lot of fossil fuel. Oil and natural gas also are quite prevalent throughout Texas.

I will remain hopeful, though, that a former governor of a state that has developed such a huge — and growing — alternative energy industry might want to imbue a federal agency that he might lead with the same policy.

Drill, baby, drill isn’t the only way to rid the nation of its dependence on foreign oil. Indeed, we’ve already come a huge distance in that regard during the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency, which has promoted many forms of clean alternative energy sources to heat and cool our homes, fuel our motor vehicles and power our industrial plants.

Would an Energy Secretary Rick Perry continue that policy? Would the president who nominated him allow such a thing?

My hope springs eternal.

No thank you on wind turbines

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SANDHILL COUNTRY, Neb. — They love their sandhills in northwest Nebraska.

They love them so much that one sees signs that read “Save the Sandhills” as you tool along U.S. Highway 83 northbound into South Dakota.

“I wonder from what or whom they’re wanting to save the sandhills,” I asked my wife.

Then it became evident.

We noticed another set of signs: “Say ‘no’ to wind turbines.”

There you have it. They don’t want no stinkin’ wind turbines polluting the landscape in Sandhill Country.

Interestingly, as we noticed campaign signs for all manner of political candidates on the eve of the election, we didn’t see evidence of a ballot measure calling for construction of wind turbines. I guess, therefore, that the good folks here are launching a pre-emptive strike against anyone who might want to install the big-bladed turbines that have become part of the landscape in, say, West Texas, Eastern New Mexico, the Oklahoma Panhandle and even parts of Kansas.

This more or less cuts to another question: Do the folks in northwest Nebraska — what few of them one can spot — not care about national energy policy, or about whether wind power could help us develop cleaner, safer, non-foreign sources of energy?

I’m guessing they do.

Just don’t put the big ol’ blades in their territory.

Here’s a thought: Let’s join OPEC

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The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has becomes something of a four-letter word in the United States.

OPEC is evil. It intends to do us harm. We don’t want to be “dependent” on oil produced in countries that hate us.

You’ve heard the mantra. I’ve heard it, too. It all started about the time of the first Arab oil embargo in 1973.

Here, though, is a notion that ought to get some serious consideration.

Now that the United States also is a “petroleum exporting country,” why don’t we join OPEC at the conference table?

OPEC comprises a lot of nations that do hate the United States. Venezuela is one of them. Iran, too.

However, now that we’re the big dog in the fossil fuel-producing pack, it would seem to make sense that we could exert our own influence over OPEC’s decision-making as it grapples with whether to reduce or increase production in an effort to control worldwide fuel prices.

Through a series of on-going efforts, Americans have eliminated this country’s dependence on imported oil. We’re now on the verge of becoming No. 1 in the world. We’ve overtaken Russia and Saudi Arabia. We’ve developed more renewable energy sources, helping increase the glut of petroleum on the world market.

OPEC, though, keeps meeting and deciding how much — or how little — oil to produce.

Isn’t it time the United States of America join OPEC? For that matter, we ought to bring our oil-rich allies in Canada and Mexico into the organization with us — providing, of course, that they’d be willing. We no longer need to curse the organization.

 

Wind power is in the wind

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ADRIAN, Texas — You have to squint your eyes a bit to take in the view in this picture.

It’s along Interstate 40 in the Texas Panhandle. I shot the picture this afternoon with my fancy-shmancy phone camera as I was returning home from a lunch meeting with a colleague in Tucumcari, N.M.

It’s a wind farm. Lots and lots and lots of wind turbines are blowing in the breeze, generating electricity — I reckon — to be shipped to points hither and yon. Given that I don’t get out as much as I used to, I was struck by the sight of hundreds of those turbines along nearly the entire length of I-40 through Oldham County after driving back onto the Caprock.

I want to call attention to this form of energy because of the presidential campaign that’s now in full swing in both major political parties.

Republicans and Democrats are seeking to nominate candidates for the White House, one of whom will succeed President Obama on Jan. 20, 2017.

That silence you’ve heard along the campaign trail has dealt with wind energy. You remember wind energy, don’t you?

Politicians are supposed to talk about it as a way to wean this nation from its dependence on fossil fuels. We’ve made some progress in one critical area: The United States is about to become the world’s leading fossil fuel energy producer, which means we’ve all but ended our dependence on foreign oil.

Of late, the only mention I’ve heard of energy production has been on the Democratic side of the campaign trail, with Bernie Sanders accusing Hillary Rodham Clinton of being in the hip pocket of fossil fuel producers; Clinton has fired back, saying Sanders also is beholden to campaign contributors who are associated with fossil fuel producers. The world has a glut of oil, demand is down, therefore so is the price of fossil fuel-related products — such as gasoline!

Oh sure, the candidates traipsed through Iowa corn fields in the first contest of the season and talked here and there about ethanol, the “bio-fuel” produced by corn. One of the big surprises of the campaign, of course, was Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s victory in Iowa — even though he stuck his neck out and criticized ethanol subsidies as a form of government giveaway the nation couldn’t afford.

The Republican/Democratic Road Show trekked eventually to Texas. Did you hear much around the Panhandle about how any of the candidates would seek to shore up wind power?

If you did, then were dialed in far more acutely than I was. I don’t recall hearing a peep out of that still-large herd of candidates in the time leading up to the March 1 Texas primaries.

I’m proud of my state for becoming a leader in wind energy. Think of it: Texas and California have something in common after all, as they are the two leading wind-producing states in the country. Who knew?

Heaven knows we have enough of it here. It’s renewable and clean — even when it kicks up tons of dirt from the cultivated fields that are spread out for miles upon miles along our vast horizon.

Here’s my plea to the candidates … if they or their staffers see this blog post: How about talking more about wind and other renewables? It’s no longer cool to just “drill baby, drill.” We’ve got a lot of wind out there that’s not coming from the mouths of political blowhards.

How about ensuring we find ways to put it to use?

 

Why not debate … in Amarillo?

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I’ve noted before in previous election cycles that the major political parties need to think beyond the norm when planning for debates between their presidential nominees.

The norm in the past has been to select cities with large media markets. Sometimes the parties put these debates in cities and states where the race is competitive.

Here’s a revolutionary thought: Why not stage one of these events right here, in little ol’ Amarillo, Texas?

Hey, I know it’s a long shot. A pipe dream. I know it won’t happen. Then again, in this strange, goofy, unpredictable, topsy-turvy primary campaign — which on the Republican side is being driven by Donald J. Trump — well, anything seems possible.

Look at it this way, Amarillo is a significant city in a significant state. One of Amarillo’s state lawmakers, Republican Four Price, said the other day that Texas’s economy all by itself is the 12th largest in the world. That by itself makes us a player.

What might be the theme of a debate held in Amarillo? Energy policy ought to be front and center. I doubt, of course, that debate planners would build a two-hour televised event around energy policy by itself.

But it does tie into the nation’s economy. How about foreign policy, given that we’re weaning ourselves of foreign oil? We’re becoming something of a trend-setter in the development of wind energy, one of those alternatives that gets some of the credit for the plunging oil prices around the world.

We’ve got venues for such an event. The Civic Center is one. The performing arts center across the street is another. Why not look at the West Texas A&M University event center in Canyon?

Is such a thing possible?

Consider this: No one ever thought that Donald Trump would be setting the pace in the race for the Republican Party presidential nomination.

I’m just saying that this election is wild and crazy enough for Amarillo to get a serious look if the political parties here want to put together a formal request.

 

 

Obama got the blame … where’s the credit?

oil prices

Let’s flash back to around 2010.

Oil prices were spiking. They surpassed $100 per barrel of crude. The price of gasoline also skyrocketed. It passed $4 per gallon in some parts of the country; it got nearly that high in the Texas Panhandle.

Who got the blame? President Barack H. Obama. His congressional critics, namely the Republicans, kept hammering the president over the price spikes. Why, they just couldn’t stomach the idea of watching these gas prices heading into the stratosphere and they had to blame someone. Obama was the target.

Then something happened.

Automakers began making more fuel-efficient cars after they were bailed out partly with federal government stimulus money. Research on alternative energy sources ramped up. Other oil-producing nations’ economies began to falter, diminishing demand on fossil fuels around the world.

The price of oil today is less than $40 per barrel, less than half of where it was five years ago. The price of gasoline? Today in Amarillo, regular unleaded is being pumped at $2.26 per gallon in most stations.

Is the president getting the “blame,” let alone the credit, for any of this?

Not on your life.

How come?

 

Age keeps getting in the way

Don’t you hate it when you show your age to a young person who doesn’t quite get the reference?

It happened to me today while I was working one of my four part-time jobs.

I was sitting in the break room at the car dealership where I work, visiting with a courtesy driver who’s about eight years older than I am.

I’m 65; he’s 73.

In walked a young salesman. We started talking about how his sales business was going.

The young man made note of how popular SUVs have become “since the price of gasoline has gotten to be so cheap.”

My courtesy driver friend and I exchanged looks — and then laughed out loud.

I told my young salesman friend that he was “talking to two fellas who remember when gasoline sold for about a quarter a gallon.” My courtesy driver friend mouthed the words “19 cents.”

My young friend, who’s 26 years of age, took note of when gasoline “first hit a buck 50.”

So, there we have a clear definition of what I’ve termed the “new normal” at the gasoline pump.

When gasoline sells for $2.50 per gallon for regular unleaded and that’s considered “cheap,” well, that signals a new way — in my view at least — of assessing the relative price of a common commodity.

I reminded my good friend — the young man — that when gasoline hit $1.50 per gallon, some of us became apoplectic.

I don’t think he quite got it. My other friend — the older one — surely did.

 

'Government ethics' takes another hit

Government ethics has taken another punch in the chops on Capitol Hill.

Imagine that.

It turns out several members of Congress went on a junket in 2013 paid for by the government of Azerbaijan. Four of them are from Texas: Democrats Ruben Hinojosa and Sheila Jackson Lee, and Republicans Ted Poe and Steve Stockman (who’s no longer in Congress).

http://www.texastribune.org/2015/05/13/four-texas-members-congress-took-trip-secretly-fun/

The Azerbaijanis showered the members with gifts, wined and dined them and apparently tried to purchase some influence regarding energy policy.

The Washington Post reported: “Lawmakers and their staff members received hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of travel expenses, silk scarves, crystal tea sets and Azerbaijani rugs valued at $2,500 to $10,000, according to the ethics report. Airfare for the lawmakers and some of their spouses cost $112,899, travel invoices show.”

The host government paid for every penny of it, according to the Post.

The ethics investigation is the most extensive since the congressional ethics office was created in response to the Jack Abramoff scandal involving payoffs, bribes and assorted influence-peddling deeds perpetrated by the one-time wheeler-dealer.

Most damning of all is that it was done under the radar. The Post reported: “The State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic, known as SOCAR, allegedly funneled $750,000 through nonprofit corporations based in the United States to conceal the source of the funding for the conference in the former Soviet nation, according to the 70-page report by the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent investigative arm of the House.”

Gosh. If it was OK to do this, why do you suppose the Azerbaijanis sought to hide it from congressional ethics investigators? Hey, maybe it was illegal. Right?

Here’s the question: Did the members of Congress who took the money know it was being hidden?

We have laws that prohibit foreign governments from trying to influence U.S. foreign policy. There well might have been more a few of those laws broken here, not to mention serious violations of congressional ethics rules.

Don’t these people get it?