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Disinherit the Wind
This article originally appeared in the June 20, 2011, issue of NR.


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Kevin D. Williamson
Spend any time in West Texas, and you’ll get used to leaning into the wind. So persistent is the wind that a legend has it that it stopped blowing once for half a minute and all the chickens fell over between Amarillo and San Angelo. If the locals could take wind and barrel it up like they do oil, or pipe it around like they do gas, they’d be living like sultans in the Saudi Arabia of wind. But they can’t. And somebody needs to explain that to T. Boone Pickens.
 
Mr. Pickens is trying to sell Congress something called the Pickens Plan, a madcap, Rube Goldberg political contraption designed to appeal to the worst elements of American politics — corporate self-dealing, xenophobia, economic illiteracy — while directing billions of dollars of subsidies into businesses in which Mr. Pickens has a financial interest. The plan goes like this: T. Boone Pickens and associates build some enormous wind farms on the Great Plains, which will produce a great deal of electricity. Unfortunately, the Great Plains are sparsely populated, and the current infrastructure for transmitting electricity would not support the efficient transmission of power from Mr. Pickens’s wind farms to the country’s population centers. So, somebody has to build a new system, and somebody has to pay for it: Mr. Pickens is nominating the American taxpayer to play that role. 
 
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But wind power is just the beginning of it. Mr. Pickens wants to create that new wind power so that he can divert a great deal of the natural gas currently feeding the nation’s electric-power plants into the transportation market, specifically into the tractor-trailer rigs that haul food and freight and much else around the nation. Mr. Pickens is deeply invested in the natural-gas business and is the majority shareholder in the leading supplier of compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicle fuel. Unfortunately for him, the nation’s freight carriers have shown very little interest in converting their 18-wheelers into vehicles powered by compressed natural gas. The reason for this is that CNG conversion is expensive and inconvenient. And because there aren’t many trucks running on natural gas, there are not a lot of gas stations and such set up to fill up CNG vehicles. You can see how this would inconvenience Mr. Pickens and his colleagues.
 
Since the people who buy 18-wheelers haven’t shown much interest in buying CNG-powered versions, the Pickens Plan would help them to see the light, with a combination of mandates and bribery. (The original version of the NAT GAS Act, the Pickens Plan’s enabling legislation, contained a mandate that a certain proportion of new trucks be CNG-powered. That provision has been dropped, but an industry mandate, or the threat of such a mandate, remains as essential to the Pickens Plan as the individual mandate is to Obamacare.) Converting to CNG is expensive — the tax credits would run up to $64,000 per truck, with about 8 million or so trucks operating in the country, and $100,000 per filling station to retrofit. Mr. Pickens proposes to offset that pain by offering a bunch of subsidies for the people who would be obliged to endure it. Somebody has to pay for those, too, and Mr. Pickens again nominates the American taxpayer. 
 
This is buffoonery — buffoonery to which both Barack Obama and John Boehner, along with about 150 members of Congress, have pledged their support. 
 
Mr. Pickens is on a jihad against “foreign oil.” He believes that the United States should consume less oil produced in the places where it is most efficient to produce it. Ask him why and he’ll sputter about Arabs and Chinese — I’ve asked, I’ve seen the sputtering. The economic philosophy holding that a country should produce what it consumes and consume what it produces, minimizing its trade with nefarious foreigners and their wicked, efficiently produced goods and services, is called “autarky.” Autarky is not really how you want to live: On the individual level autarky means the life of Robinson Crusoe, and on the national level autarky means the life of North Korea. The intermediate grades of autarky are hardly more attractive. It is difficult to imagine why we would not want to consume goods produced in the places they are best produced. Nobody in Maine expects to eat locally grown mangos, and you don’t go to Lubbock, Texas, for the fresh seafood. If you live in Kansas, you probably drink wine made by the invidious French rather than by the good plainsmen of Eureka, decent and God-fearing though they may be. Italians want their televisions made by Sony. Indians will drive Indian cars until they can afford German ones. And thus the world goes ’round.
 


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