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Oil Man T. Boone Pickens Pressures Presidential Candidates on Energy

Oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens spoke at the National Press Club in Washington Monday and called on both presidential candidates to come up with a plan to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Pickens has spent millions of dollars on national television ads, promoting his plan for the United States to move away from oil and toward natural gas for its transportation needs and wind power for its electricity needs. VOA Correspondent Cindy Saine reports.

T. Boone Pickens has a sense of urgency about his plan to deal with the looming energy crisis he says the United States is facing. The Texas geologist made his fortune in the oil business. But he says he is now 80-years-old, has enough money and wants to do something for his country. Pickens is looking to the two major presidential candidates, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, to pledge to reduce U.S. consumption of foreign oil.

"What do I want? I want both of these candidates, and we are going to press it up, you are going to see a new series of ads," said T. Boone Pickens. "I am going to press it up to them that we want a plan, an energy plan to reduce, at least reduce, our foreign oil by 30 percent in 10 years."

Pickens says the United States is sending some $700 billion a year to overseas oil producers, because U.S. demand far exceeds domestic production. Pickens painted a gloomy picture of what the transfer of wealth to foreign oil producing countries will look like in a decade if the United States continues on its present path.

"You go 10 years, you are going to be importing 75 percent of your oil," he said. "And I promise you the price will be $200 to $300 a barrel, I promise you that. And I keep my promises. I know what I am talking about. And you are going to be spending $2 trillion a year."

The "Pickens Plan" envisions power-generating wind turbines stretching along the nation's Central Plains - from Texas to the Canadian border. He says the limitless and clean power supply would free up abundant U.S. natural gas resources, which could be used to power a new generation of natural gas-powered vehicles. Pickens announced plans this year to build the world's largest wind farm in his home state of Texas.

But critics point out that the oil tycoon also has a huge financial stake in the alternative energy policies he is promoting. Some experts say that replacing gasoline with compressed natural gas for American cars and trucks - in addition to fleets of public buses - is not feasible because of the cost of making natural gas available across the nation at corner gas stations.

Pickens insisted again Monday that he is remaining neutral in this year's presidential race, after funding ads that attacked Democrat John Kerry's Vietnam War record during the 2004 presidential election.

Pickens has met with both Barack Obama and John McCain, and surprised many analysts by going to the Democratic National Convention in Denver to push his energy plan. Pickens says that this time around, he is having no trouble working with Democrats. He says he is having more trouble working with some Republicans, who, he says, seem convinced they can "drill their way out" of the U.S. energy crisis by resuming offshore oil production in U.S waters.