Industry leaders: NAT GAS Act exemplifies bipartisan efforts

I have been coming to Washington for more than 40 years. No matter which party is in power, that party claims it is being bipartisan, and the other group says it is not being allowed into the deal. Once in a great while an issue gets to the point where the usual automatic partisan positions are left behind.

Trade is a good example. In the recent past, 17 bilateral free trade agreements were negotiated by Democratic and Republican administrations with the help of both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate. A trade agreement with Bahrain or Singapore is neither a Republican nor a Democratic idea. Republicans have endorsed them on an open-trade basis; Democrats have used them to insist on stronger internal labor laws being adopted by our trading partners.

A current example of a policy that goes beyond partisanship is legislation to provide incentives for using domestic natural gas as a principal transportation fuel. There are companion bills in the House and Senate named the NAT GAS Act of 2009. The House number is H.R. 1835; the Senate bill is S. 1408.

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In the House, there are 74 bipartisan co-sponsors. The bill was introduced April 1 by Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) with Reps. John Larson (D-Conn.) and John Sullivan (R-Okla.) as original cosponsors. On that same day 11 other members signed on — Democrats and Republicans.

In the Senate, Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced S. 1408 on July 8 with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) standing at his side.  Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was also an original cosponsor.

In both cases, members of the majority and the minority are looking beyond partisan advantage for the good of the country.

In the year during which I have been promoting the Pickens Plan, we have recruited 1.6 million members to the “Pickens Plan Army.” We have Army members in every congressional district.  This is not an army of Republicans or Democrats. It’s an army of Americans who are concerned about our dependence on foreign oil.

The most recent figures from the Energy Information Agency show that in June we imported 354 million barrels of oil at a cost of about $24.7 billion. That represented just under two-thirds of all the oil we used. That percentage hasn’t changed in the past year.

About 70 percent of the oil we import is used as transportation fuel in the form of gasoline or diesel. Half of that is used for heavy-duty trucks, largely the 18-wheelers that move goods across and around the United States. Batteries won’t move an 18-wheeler. Neither will ethanol. The only domestic substitute for imported diesel is natural gas.

Over the past year every study has shown that the amount of natural gas we have available in the continental United States has grown dramatically. Last week, in a conference call with reporters, Majority Leader Reid told a story about a major industrialist who came in to visit about five years ago to warn that the lack of natural gas in the United States was going to force him to move his operations overseas.

According to a new study conducted under the direction of the Colorado School of Mines, we have about 2,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves. That means we have more energy in our domestic natural gas reserves than all the energy in all the oil in Saudi Arabia.

We’ve identified the problem: we’re too dependent on foreign oil. We’ve identified the solution: domestic natural gas. We now have the path to get us on our way to energy independence: The NAT GAS Act of 2009.

President Obama has stated publicly that within 10 years we will no longer import any oil from the Middle East. Our largest supplier of oil is Canada. We have a special relationship with them. But, our own oil reserves are diminishing and Mexico (which is our second-largest supplier) is suffering from the same problem.

After those two contiguous neighbors the next eight countries who lead the top-10 list of oil exporters to the U.S. are, in order:  Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Nigeria, Iraq, Angola, Algeria, Russia and Colombia.

That’s a list of countries that, as a group, are not from stable regions, don’t have the best interests of the United States at heart, or both.

The NAT GAS Act will jump-start the manufacture, distribution, and sale of natural gas vehicles (NGVs) in the United States.  There are about 10 million NGVs in service around the globe; only about 120,000 of them are in the United States. There’s the “chicken and egg” thing of which should come first: building and selling NGVs or building out a refueling infrastructure to support them.

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Heavy-duty trucks, and other fleet vehicles, don’t have this problem. Over-the-road trucks tend to run the same routes on a regular schedule. Drivers stop at the same places to rest, eat and refuel. One trucking company said it could get its trucks coast-to-coast with just 10 refueling points. Private industry will handle the natural gas facilities at existing truck stops.

Fleet vehicles like express delivery, utility, and government vehicles that generally go home to the “barn” every night are easily refueled from one central location.

All that is needed is a spark to get this new natural-gas-fueled industrial engine started.  That spark is named the NAT GAS Act of 2009. It is a bipartisan blueprint for action – action that is needed now.

Pickens has worked in energy industries for six decades. He is chairman of BP Capital, which invests in many energy sources, including natural gas, and in energy-dependent businesses.