By Ben Geman - 06/24/12 02:44 PM EDT
Billionaire oil-and-gas magnate T. Boone Pickens suggested Sunday that he will support Mitt Romney over President Obama in the 2012 election.
“I will support the one that has the energy plan for America,” Pickens said on Fox News Sunday. “I think that Romney will show up with the plan is what I think. I have seen Obama, I have heard what he says, but he never has a plan, he has never come forward with a plan for energy for America.”
But in recent years Pickens has de-emphasized politics and worked with Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), to promote the use of natural gas in heavy trucking.
Reid has introduced bipartisan legislation that would provide billions of dollars in tax credits to help spur conversion to natural gas-powered trucks, a plan advocates call a way to boost energy security by curbing oil demand in the sector that uses massive amounts of diesel fuel.
Pickens, in the Fox interview, was hardly effusive in his praise for Romney.
“Romney has the kind of the skeleton of a plan, but I haven’t heard his plan yet either, but this is an opportunity for us to rebuild our economy off the back of cheap energy,” Pickens said.
Neither campaign would likely agree with Pickens' claim that they lack plans.
Romney’s energy and environmental platform calls for stripping EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and more broadly rolling back what he calls excessive regulations under the Obama administration.
He wants to expand oil-and-gas leasing to include areas that are currently off limits, including the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and strongly backs construction of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, among other measures.
The White House is strongly promoting its support for drilling too, though the administration’s offshore leasing program is far narrower than what critics want, focusing on the Gulf of Mexico and more lease sales off Alaska’s coast in several years. The administration has pushed back against allegations that it’s regulatory agenda will interfere with domestic development going forward, and often touts oil-and-gas production increases in recent years.
On green energy, the White House backs a muscular federal role in helping to speed commercial deployment of alternative supplies such as solar electricity, while Romney says there should be a more limited role focused on basic research.
Elsewhere in the interview, Pickens continued to plug the legislation that would provide tax credits for conversion to natural gas in the energy-thirsty heavy trucking business.
The plan has garnered strong opposition from conservative groups that are influential in GOP circles, such as the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, the Club for Growth, the Heritage Foundation and others. Conservative critics call it unnecessary federal meddling in energy markets.
It sputtered in the Senate in March, garnering 51 votes when 60 were needed for advancement, while in the House, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has come out strongly in opposition, dealing a likely fatal political blow to its prospects in that chamber.
Pickens, who has attacked Koch Industries for its opposition to the bill, revived that criticism on Fox Sunday. Koch, a Kansas-based conglomerate active in refining and other sectors, is headed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who are active in conservative causes.
“They do not want to see the price of natural gas go up because they are in the fertilizer and chemical business,” Pickens said.
Critics of the proposal note that with natural gas inexpensive in the U.S. as production booms, the shift to natural gas-powered trucks will occur due to market forces even without government intervention.
But Pickens said the legislation – which provides support for purchasing and manufacture of natural gas-powered vehicles, as well as refueling infrastructure – will hasten the transition.
Under the Senate plan, the cost of the bill would be offset by a new user fee — which runs through 2021 — on the sale of liquefied and compressed natural gas that’s used as vehicle fuel.
“I say, ok, if you want to do that, it is going to take you 8-10 years, if you want to do something as far as legislation is concerned, you can do it in half that time,” Pickens said in arguing his plan would speed use of natural gas in trucking.