Appearing on the MSNBC morning program Morning Joe, energy investor T. Boone Pickens let us know that despite his no-nonsense business-like approach to supporting what he believes to be in America’s best interests, it’s really all about him and what profits him. But program hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski didn’t catch that.
Pickens appeared on the program to gain support for legislation he is seeking to pass through Congress. His bill is H.R. 1380: New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act of 2011, commonly referred to as the NAT GAS act. The bill would provide payments in the form of tax credits to encourage the use of natural gas as a transportation fuel.
Host Scarborough said “It makes so much sense.” At the end of the segment, Brzezinski pleaded “Do us a favor. Please don’t give up.”
Never once did either host bring up the facts that Daniel Indiviglio cites in his coverage for The Atlantic. Mike Barnicle was on the show but wasn’t helpful in this regard, either.
The problem is this, according to Indiviglio: “At no point during the nine-minute interview on MSNBC did Pickens mention that he stands to make a significant financial gain if the bill he’s promoting succeeds and natural gas usage expands.”
Pickens knows how to present his case in the best possible light, picking and choosing which fact to present, and which to stretch or ignore. He criticizes Koch Industries for its opposition to the bill. Koch has explained its opposition to subsidies for natural gas as a transportation fuel, just as it opposes all subsidies. In a statement on its Viewpoint website, Dr. Richard Fink, Executive Vice President of Koch Industries, explained the harm of government intervention, writing “Koch has consistently opposed subsidies that distort markets. We maintain that the marketplace, while not perfect, is the best mechanism for allocating resources to consumers. People deciding what fuels to purchase, instead of the government, is best for consumers and our country. Likewise, if natural gas vehicles are truly advantageous and economically efficient, then consumers will demand that they be developed without political mandates that exhaust more taxpayer dollars.”
Pickens went on to criticize Koch for accepting subsides for ethanol production. Koch Industries, as a refiner of oil, blends ethanol with gasoline it produces in order to meet federal mandates on ethanol usage. Even though Koch opposes subsidies for ethanol, Koch accepts the subsidies. A company newsletter explains: “Once a law is enacted, we are not going to place our company and our employees at a competitive disadvantage by not participating in programs that are available to our competitors.”
So the criticism of Koch by Pickens is unfounded. Now I wouldn’t really expect the program hosts to be aware of this, but they must have been aware that Pickens will profit, probably handsomely, if the NAT GAS act passes.
In his coverage Indiviglio writes: “Essentially, Pickens criticizes Koch for preferring government subsidies to benefit Koch Industries. But is Pickens’ motivation for natural gas subsidies really any different?”
It is different in an important way. Koch, as explained above, participates in a subsidy program that is available to all similarly situated companies. At the same time the company calls for its end for reasons of principle that the company and its owners have supported for many years. Pickens, on the other hand, wants to create a new program with new subsidies and new expansion of government intervention into free markets.
Besides this, when you listen to Pickens, you realize it’s all about him and what he wants. “We have 250 million vehicles in America. So I’m going to take eight million heavy duty trucks — that’s it — and that will do it.” And then “I want a billion dollars a year for five years.”
Large decisions about our country’s energy future shouldn’t be made by one person, or even by Congress and the president. We need to let the dynamic discovery process of markets harness and organize the tremendous diverse power of the human mind and reveal to us the best energy solutions.