By Chris Lane
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Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said in late February that there is not yet a serviceable large-scale way to store wind energy for later use. At the moment, most wind farms are backed up by natural gas power.
Thank goodness Pickens is in the natural gas business, too.
One month after his visit to Rice University, Pickens is back in Houston again, this time at TranStar, the Harris County transportation hub, preaching the evils of imported oil and pumping up his idea of using natural gas to fuel trucks. He's dressed in the same black suit, white shirt and orange Oklahoma State University-colored necktie that have become his unofficial uniform when speaking in public.
After the presentation, Pickens chats amiably with a few members of his New Energy Army who've come to see him in the flesh, and fields questions from reporters.
A journalist in his twenties approaches him. Pickens asks the young man if he's a member of his Army. The reporter, sounding nervous, stammers before saying that he thinks joining would be a conflict of interest. With a smile on his face, Pickens snaps back, asking if being pro-America is also a conflict of interest. The reporter turns red with embarrassment.
While Pickens was clearly joking around, critics argue that this is Pickens's modus operandi: inspiring fear, making personal attacks and wielding patriotism like a cudgel.
One of his latest television ads shows Europe in a fictional electrical blackout because Russia earlier this year refused to sell its natural gas to several countries. Pickens ominously warns that this could happen to America if we keep relying on our foreign enemies' oil.
In January, Pickens got into a pissing contest with FedEx heavyweights after the company's CEO, Fred Smith, blogged about the virtues of hybrid-electric vehicles and the director of sustainability, Mitch Jackson, posted a blog drubbing natural gas as a transportation fuel. In short order, Pickens responded with a blog of his own, countering Jackson and writing that the FedEx executive needs "to do more homework."
Then there was an incident, captured by The Wall Street Journal, when Pickens was having breakfast with former Kansas governor Bill Graves, who now heads the American Trucking Association. Graves was telling Pickens of his concerns with using natural gas in trucks when Pickens reportedly said, "Bill, I just want to warn you on this. I'm going to make you look unpatriotic for supporting foreign oil. I just want to make sure you understand that."
Clayton Boyce, spokesman for Graves, says the former governor was mystified by Pickens's statement.
"Governor Graves has known Mr. Pickens for many years and knows that he's an unusual guy, to say the least," says Boyce. "To say that we're un-American because we're not supporting his plan doesn't make sense."
Energy consultant Anthony Rubenstein says he's seen Pickens's tactics firsthand and, like John Kerry, feels "Swift-Boated."
Rubenstein went up against Pickens last November in the battle over California's Proposition 10, which asked voters to spend $5 billion in taxpayer money on incentives to purchase natural gas vehicles and fund alternative fuel research. The "Yes on 10" campaign was backed heavily by Pickens and his California-based company Clean Energy Fuels, one of the largest providers of natural gas for vehicles in the country. According to news reports, Pickens and other natural gas companies funded 98 percent of the nearly $29 million spent promoting the proposition. Rubenstein worked free of charge for the underfunded opposition, which reportedly only spent $173,000, and in the end, Rubenstein's team won when the measure failed 60 to 40 percent.
Though he says he can't definitively prove it, Rubenstein accuses Pickens and his operation of launching a smear campaign against him after the Los Angeles Times published Rubenstein's op-ed piece, titled "T. Boone Pickens' 'Clean' Secret," in July of last year, which argued Pickens was trying to raid state coffers to help his company. Rubenstein is convinced the "Yes on 10" campaign hired a political consultant in Sacramento to create and then tell the media about a new Web site, tonytherube.com, aimed at disparaging Rubenstein's reputation and destroying his credibility on the issue.
The political consultant "sent out a press release saying he's starting a blog because 'Tony Rubenstein is a dickhead,'" says Rubenstein. "If you're telling me he did that for fun and for free, well, that's an interesting hobby that guy's got."
The consultant and the "Yes on 10" campaign have since denied any connection to one another.
Still, Rubenstein feels targeted by Pickens.
"I still get choked up because it really hurt," says Rubenstein. "They were trying to destroy me personally so I couldn't make a living. And I'm a strong fucking guy. I'll fight anyone to the fucking death. And the reason I want to get this out there is because, for a guy like me, going up against Boone Pickens, it puts me in a position where I look like this angry, stone-throwing gadfly just because I was able to get my message out there and it differs from his."