Need for U.S. energy plan: urgent, or ‘hogwash’?

Updated Aug 28, 2013

Does the U.S. need a national energy policy, or is the country better served by the marketplace?

Oilman turned natural gas cheerleader (and prominent investor) T. Boone Pickens says it’s an outrage the U.S. doesn’t have a formal, long-range plan.

His particular bone to pick is with OPEC, or rather with American dependence on nations who, he reasonably argues, support people who want to destroy us.

Transferring hard-won wealth, at alarming and increasing rates, to the nation’s sworn enemies is simply crazy—and must be curtailed, Pickens insists.

But where’s the leadership on this?

“From Nixon forward, presidents have said, ‘elect me and we’ll be energy independent,’” Pickens said this week, speaking at the Commercial Vehicle Outlook Conference in Dallas. “The media never asked them what their plan was.”

And Pickens can be persuasive, credible both as a genuine American character in the great maverick tradition and as an astute businessman not afraid to leverage a substantial fortune to pursue his vision.

Of course, the particular national policy he’s lobbying for has a lot to do with utilizing the vast reserves of good ol’ American natural gas.

And just because Pickens stands to profit handsomely from an energy policy geared toward weaning the U.S. from OPEC oil doesn’t mean it’s a wrongheaded notion.

Except that it is wrong, on a couple of counts: Not only is a national energy plan unnecessary, implementing one would likely be harmful. That’s the opinion of global energy expert Robert Bryce, who also spoke to fleet executives and industry suppliers gathered for CVOC.

“Even in the absence of an energy policy in the U.S., we’re the envy of every other country in the world. To the idea that we need to achieve X, Y and Z just to reduce our oil imports, my response is, ‘hey, we’re doing great,’” Bryce said. “The market is moving to natural gas on its own. Why do we need more government intervention to muck it up? Let the best fuel win and get the government out of it as much as possible.”

Indeed, the American solution is “free markets and free people,” and making smart decisions in a global trading economy, Bryce says.

“This idea of energy independence is a load of hogwash. We have no interest in being energy independent,” Bryce said. “We are energy interdependent today and we will be tomorrow. It’s not something to be feared, it’s something to be celebrated.”

As Bryce points out, in May U.S. oil exports were 3.5 million barrels per day, making the U.S. one of the world’s largest exporters. Additionally, he calls the U.S. “the OPEC of coal,” and worldwide demand will only soar in coming years.

“We’re integrated in the global economy and we should be focusing on integration,” Bryce said. “We want to trade with the rest of the world.”

Bryce is even more outspoken on the need to embrace coal, and on the futility of looking to wind and solar power to meet global energy needs.

That’s a discussion I’ll follow up on as well.