Pickens: Obama abandoned ‘all of the above’ energy policy

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Republicans who have pressed for increased domestic energy production have similarly accused Obama of catering exclusively to demands from environmental groups.

GOP lawmakers have cited the president’s delay on approving the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline as acquiescence to pressure from green groups.

Overall, U.S. oil and natural-gas production have been rising for years. But Obama's critics say White House policies place too many restrictions on development on federally controlled lands and waters.

Pickens, architect of the eponymous "Pickens Plan" that aims to wean the U.S. off foreign energy, has devoted much of his attention in recent years to converting heavy-duty truck fleets to natural-gas fuel. Pickens said switching 18-wheeler truck fleets to natural gas will cut imports of foreign oil by 3 million barrels per day.

He vented his frustration with Washington for failing to promote natural gas. Pickens, who has pushed legislation for government to create demand for natural gas, said he had given up trying to convince lawmakers.

"I will not go back to Washington again unless it's a social event," he said.

Pickens acknowledged that even GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney seemed reluctant to use government to build the market for natural gas. Romney has expressed opposition to using tax credits to incentivize converting vehicles to natural gas. 

But Pickens said with natural gas so cheap, he believed the private sector would spur growth even if Washington failed to act.

Though his cheerleading for natural gas vehicles has remained constant, Pickens has made changes to his plan since 2008, when he pushed hard for the plan during that year's presidential race. His early plan called for wind energy to supply more of the nation's electricity, but now calls for natural gas to do that instead.

“We’re looking at a much different energy picture,” Pickens said.

“You didn’t realize you had as much natural gas as you had,” he said. “Wind can’t get going if natural gas prices are under $6 [per million British thermal units] ... I’ve lost my ass, to put it frankly, on [wind].”

Pickens did not offer an opinion on the wind energy production tax credit, known as the PTC, which is set to expire Dec. 31. That 2.2 cent per-kilowatt-hour incentive is considered crucial for the wind industry, which claims failure to extend the PTC will cost 37,000 direct and indirect jobs.

Romney, for his part, opposes extending the PTC, while Obama favors it.

Pickens offered support for renewable energy technology, but devoted most of his attention to what he believed were Obama’s failures to recognize the nation’s fossil fuel wealth. He advocated for more drilling in federally controlled onshore and offshore lands so the country could “go all-American on resources.”

Many of the differences between Pickens’s wishes and Obama’s actions reflect complaints from Republican rank-and-file all the way up to Romney. Pickens stopped short of endorsing Romney, though he has previously signaled support for the former Massachusetts governor.

If reducing foreign oil imports is Pickens’s main concern, then Obama has done plenty to address that, rebutted Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, during the panel discussion.

Callahan touted fuel economy standards finalized Wednesday, which requires cars made in the model year 2025 to get 54.5 miles per gallon, as one of the most effective ways to reach that goal. Romney bashed those standards on Wednesday, though he supported and adopted fuel efficiency standards as Massachusetts governor.

Callahan also noted oil imports are at their lowest level in 10 years.

But Pickens rejected the idea that Obama had anything to do with that development, at least intentionally.

“I can tell you how he did it,” Pickens said. “A bad economy.”

—This story was updated at 3:36 p.m.