Billionaire pushes domestic energy plan

Energy magnate T. Boone Pickens and former Sen. Bob Dole were at the Dole Institute for a town hall-style event Wednesday where Pickens discussed the nation’s energy future.

Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, former Kansas Senator Bob Dole and Oklahoma energy magnate T. Boone Pickens were at the Dole Institute for a town hall meeting Wednesday.

When billionaire T. Boone Pickens talks, people listen.

Pickens, author and bankroller of a plan to wean America off foreign oil during the next decade, brought his campaign Wednesday to Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at Kansas University. The visit drew a capacity crowd of 525, with organizers forced to turn people away from the town hall-style event.

Among those allowed in were Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and the institute’s namesake, former Sen. Bob Dole — two political power brokers who are confident that if anyone can get his message into both the national consciousness and Washington establishment, it’s Pickens.

An energy bill should be moving through Congress this year and enjoy bipartisan support, Brownback said.

Such a bill, he said, will ride the foundation set by the “Pickens Plan,” which calls for America to generate electricity from domestic renewable resources, such as wind, and use natural gas to fuel large trucks and other vehicles.

Pickens’ plan calls for replacing more than a third of the county’s oil imports and helping boost the fortunes of all Americans, including folks in Kansas.

“We’ve been addicted to cheap oil,” Pickens said, who also backs the use of clean coal, ethanol, biodiesel and any other domestic resource. “It’s pretty much like dope: It’s cheap, and we continue to want more and more and more of it. … The only way to get off of it is to get into our own resources.”

Brownback said that Kansas could be a leader in providing wind energy, provided the country can figure out how to create an energy grid to transport such power to the customers who need it.

“We can be the Saudi Arabia of wind,” Brownback said.

State Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, said that such transmission lines would cost $1.5 million per mile, and that the real debate would emerge over where the lines would be located and who would make those decisions.

That may be difficult, he said, but at least people are discussing the possibilities now.

“He’s moving the whole process forward,” said Sloan, who serves on the House Energy and Utilities Committee.

Pickens answered questions from the audience and signed copies of his book “The First Billion is the Hardest.” The billionaire who made his money in oil and other entrepreneurial pursuits shrugged off jabs about Oklahoma State University’s past efforts to lure Bill Self away from the KU basketball bench and over to their shared alma mater.

“You can’t talk to Bill Self while you’re here,” Brownback told Pickens, drawing applause both from the crowd and a smiling Pickens.

Dole noted that Pickens had the drive — and the money — to push for a national energy plan, something politicians have spent decades failing to accomplish.

“If I’d stayed on message the way Boone stays on message, we might be in a presidential library today,” Dole quipped.

For more information about Pickens’ plan, visit The Dole Institute has posted video of the town hall presentation online, at