Suspicious Over Pickens, but Embracing Gore's Venture Capitalism

Oil man T. Boone Pickens and former VP Al Gore are two men with ambitious plans for the environment. But one's a liberal media hero, while the other can't be trusted, perhaps because of his involvement in the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that scuttled John Kerry's presidential hopes in 2004.

That's the takeaway from Tuesday's Business Day story by Kate Galbraith, "Pickens Plan Stirs Debate, And Qualms," on T. Boone Pickens' energy strategy, which would deemphasize oil as an energy source in favor of natural gas and wind power. Yet far from adhering to the usual Times' practice of embracing environmentalism, Galbraith emphasized the wrenching changes that would be necessary, like the installation of new fuel pumps and refueling kits, and also brought upthe lack of public enthusiasm for cars fueled by natural gas (as if environmentalists like Al Gore have ever let public apathy stop them in the past).

In contrast, when Al Gore made a speech in July laying out his impossibly expensive proposal for the U.S. to abandon electricity created by fossil fuels within a decade, Times reporter John Broder didn't seek out groups to challenge Gore on his specifics. The headline was alsofar more flattering than the oneabout Pickens' plan: "Gore Urges Change to Dodge an Energy Crisis."

On Tuesday, Galbraith attacked Pickens' plan from multiple angles, even tweaking Pickens forhis Gulfstream jet (as if Gore avoids them):

In other countries, interest has been rising for years in running passenger cars on the cleanest of fossil fuels, natural gas. Now, in an era of $4 gasoline, some Americans seem to be waking up to the possibility if it might save them money.

The attention is partly, but not exclusively, because of the efforts of Boone Pickens, the billionaire Texas oilman and onetime corporate raider. "You have only one fuel that will reduce the oil imports, and you have it in abundance," Mr. Pickens said in a recent interview aboard his Gulfstream jet as it streaked from Washington to Dallas - not propelled, alas, by natural gas.

Mr. Pickens earned Democrats' ire for backing the "swift boat" attacks that helped defeat John Kerry, their presidential nominee, in 2004. At 80, Mr. Pickens has decided to play a markedly different role in this election, committing $58 million to a marketing campaign that he hopes will force the presidential candidates into a discussion of his ideas.

Fearing that reliance on foreign oil poses national security and economic risks, Mr. Pickens argues that natural gas produced in North America is a "patriotic" fuel that should be used for trucks and automobiles.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Mr. Pickens's plan aligns with his own business interests. He is the founder and chairman of an energy-focused investment fund, BP Capital, as well as the majority shareholder in Clean Energy Fuels, a company that supplies fuel for natural gas vehicles.

Galbraith found liberal groups to nitpick Pickens' plan and even made some conservative-sounding points -like public resistance and prohibitive expenses -that the Times rarely brings up when discussing environmental issues:

Natural gas is cleaner than gasoline, and at the pump it can cut the cost of transportation fuel by nearly half. However, it can cost thousands extra to buy or convert a vehicle for natural gas. Mr. Pickens claims gas could displace 38 percent of the oil the nation imports, but that would require the sale of tens of millions of vehicles.

"There's a role for natural gas," said David Friedman, research director for clean vehicles at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group. "It's just that Pickens's scale is way off the charts."

The immediate problem is a lack of fuel pumps. Without them, drivers will not buy natural gas cars. Without the cars, service stations will not go to the trouble of installing pumps. The few people buying these cars often use home refueling kits that cost thousands.

By contrast, the Times never engages in snark about environmental evangelist Al Gore's fuel-guzzling modes of travel (private planes, limos), the huge carbon footprint of his huge mansion outside of Nashville, or his own environmental business interests. Last November the Times actually celebrated Gore joining the greenventure capital firm Kleiner Perkins as a sign of his forward-thinking smarts - no lines about how Gore's decision conveniently aligned with "his own business interests." Instead, reporter Matt Richtel gushed that

The alliance provides Mr. Gore an additional pulpit for his advocacy of environmental causes, but also gives the Nobel laureate an opportunity to nurture green businesses.

The hard-hitting headline? "Investment Firm Names Gore as a Partner."

A later Times web postingon the Times' Dealbook blog detailed that although Gore would donate his salary to an environmental group, he would be keeping the profits he earnedfrom the venture capital group.