Last week was the culmination of a process begun years ago. A bill was introduced to Congress that could end American dependence on foreign oil. What is called the New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act — more simply put, the NAT GAS Act — was introduced to Congress on April 6. It has bipartisan support. It ought to pass and pass promptly. It could be called the Boone Pickens bill.
The process began with the Pickens Plan for global energy security in 2008. Authored by legendary oilman T. Boone Pickens, who put some $80 million of his own money into promoting it, it called for the development of all sources of energy, even wind and solar. Boone recognized that as long as America is dependent on foreign oil, America has a national security problem. We import 70 percent of our oil, an amount that can only go up unless something is done. The oil comes from unfriendly countries in the worst scenarios, unstable countries in slightly better scenarios. Canada is the best scenario but cannot provide all the oil we need.
In the meantime, a very auspicious development has taken place. America has become the Saudi Arabia of natural gas. In fact, we probably have more energy capacity in natural gas than the Saudis have in oil.
In the past few years, natural gas has been found in abundance in the United States. We have more than 2,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves, mostly in Appalachia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas — more than twice the amount of Saudi oil, enough to last us 100 years, probably more. Recent innovations make it cleaner to burn and cheaper to use. It is the only fuel that can replace diesel in semis and other heavy-duty vehicles. Battery power will not work on these behemoths, nor will ethanol.
The NAT GAS Act that is pending before Congress would extend and increase tax credits for natural gas and fueling. The key clauses call for the orderly replacement of diesel-powered 18-wheelers and other heavy-duty vehicles with ones that use natural gas, over a five- to seven-year period. It also would give tax incentives to truck stop owners to supply natural gas. That would amount to a savings of 2.5 million barrels of oil a day. It would cut our reliance on OPEC oil by 50 percent. This is why Boone calls it "a game changer." With our reliance on OPEC down by 50 percent, the oil producers would have to negotiate with us for the price they charge us for oil. Also, we would have a breathing spell during which to find alternative sources of energy.
It seems to me that the way to look at the NAT GAS Act is as a national security measure. American presidents since Jimmy Carter have called for America to be energy-independent. They have wanted us to drill, to develop wind and solar, to expand our nuclear potential. Well, we can do all that, but we have here and now the capacity to be independent. The solution is natural gas. Get the semis and other heavy-duty vehicles on it now.
About a year ago, the price of gas at the pump was not much of a problem. Now that price has shot up with turbulence in the Middle East. There are predictions of $5-a-gallon gasoline. It could have been avoided had we acted on the NAT GAS Act a couple of years ago. The time to act is now. Our national security would be enhanced.
I have made a few calls around Washington. No one, save an environmental wacko, is against the NAT GAS Act before Congress. It is time for both Democrats and Republicans to prove that they, acting together, can get something done. This bill has 157 co-sponsors. Pass the bill. And why not call it the Boone Pickens bill? It is a lot easier to enunciate than the New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is the founder and editor-in-chief of The American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. His new book is "After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery." To find out more about R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.