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 smoke 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 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 the dollar-centric monetary system to a basket of currencies that includes the euro and the Chinese renminbi, it would prove Pickens’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 use natural-gas cars, especially in the short term. It is also unlikely that natural gas is a long-term solution (long-term meaning 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 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 win one 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 debate 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 policymakers, 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 no 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, one that will create real jobs even as it protects the environment.

And it will make life easier for joggers everywhere.

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