Something about energy policy causes Republicans and even many conservatives to abandon every free-market principle they claim to believe and embrace corporate welfare. The latest example comes courtesy of our sometime intellectual ally, Texas billionaire Boone Pickens, who is pushing the Nat Gas Act.
Mr. Pickens wants to pour subsidies on the production and purchase of vehicles that use natural gas as a transportation fuel. With conventional gasoline prices approaching $4 a gallon in many markets, this is the hottest energy fad in Washington and has had as many as 180 House co-sponsors, including, at last count, 72 Republicans.
The Pickens plan got a big lift when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced a version of the bill with fellow Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey and North Carolina Republican Richard Burr, a rare case of bipartisan agreement.
“Natural gas is cheap, clean, abundant, and it’s ours,” Mr. Pickens says, and he’s right. Breakthroughs in drilling technologies, such as hydraulic fracturing in shale, have increased America’s recoverable reserves of natural gas at a low cost. Natural gas prices have remained low and stable this year even as oil prices have fluctuated and topped $100 a barrel. Natural gas is already supplanting coal plants for electricity in many places and is likely to keep doing so unless environmentalists kill the fracking industry.
But natural gas isn’t widespread as a transportation fuel, and Mr. Pickens wants to dun taxpayers to change that. The Nat Gas Act would provide tax credits between $7,500 and $65,000 per vehicle to convert 150,000 U.S. light trucks and heavy 18-wheelers to natural gas engines from those powered by diesel oil. The bill would also provide a tax credit to the manufacturers of natural gas vehicles.