WASHINGTON — The other day, the estimable Wall Street Journal editorial board took issue with the equally estimable T. Boone Pickens, the legendary oilman, over the Nat Gas Act. The Journal argued with its customary lucidity that Pickens' idea of subsidizing natural gas, even for a short period, was ill-advised. To my mind, the Journal left one argument out, to wit: national security.
The Journal argued that natural gas could be supplied according to free-market practices, presenting clean and cheap energy even to those behemoth 18-wheel semis that carry their loads across America. It argued that talk of energy independence had led to numerous boondoggles for years. Ethanol had been tried for 30 years and cost $40 billion, and still is costing us. It argued that wind and solar had cost huge amounts and contributed mostly to boondoggles, or "Boone-Doggles," as it headlined its piece. It argued that no subsidies had been necessary for Henry Ford to build the first Model T, nor were subsidies necessary to put gas stations across America for servicing the Model Ts.
Yes, well, let's stop right there. America existed in the first part of the 20th century in an entirely different world than exists today. There were no terrorists capable of killing us. Oil came mostly from Texas or Oklahoma — much friendlier and more stable places than the Middle East or Venezuela or Russia.
We now import some 70 percent of our oil. We are at the mercy of conditions that are usually out of our control. If we were to have natural gas fueling our 18-wheelers, we would be back in control. Actually, we could resume shipping energy abroad. In recent years, we have found natural gas in abundance right here in America. Through technological developments such as hydraulic fracturing, we have unlocked more energy than exists in all of Saudi Arabia. Let Iran or a gang of terrorists close down the Strait of Hormuz. We are still secure.
The Nat Gas Act now pending before Congress will extend and increase tax credits for natural gas and for fueling. The key clause calls for the orderly replacement of diesel-powered 18-wheeler semis and other heavy-duty vehicles with natural gas over a five- to seven-year period. It also gives tax incentives to truck stop owners to supply natural gas. That will amount to a savings of 2.5 million barrels of oil a day.
Our reliance on OPEC oil will be cut by 50 percent. Pickens calls this "a game changer." With our reliance on OPEC down by 50 percent, the oil producers will have to negotiate with us for the price they charge us for oil, not the other way around. What's more, we will have a breathing spell during which to find alternative sources of energy. That breathing spell could last a century or more. There is that much natural gas right here in America. Finally, the energy sector of our economy can and will produce thousands of high-quality jobs.
The way to justify the Nat Gas Act is via national security. American presidents since Jimmy Carter have called for America to be energy-independent. They wanted us to drill for energy, to develop wind and solar, to expand our nuclear potential. Well, all that is fine, but the major justification should be national security. We spend in the neighborhood of $700 billion a year on national security. We can spend a few billion more.
America is vulnerable to terrorists, to Middle Eastern instability, to unfriendly powers around the world. We have a kind of miracle that has been developed over the past few years in natural gas. By passing the Nat Gas Act now, we can end these threats against us. We can become an energy exporter. The bill now has 180 co-sponsors in the House. Seventy-two are Republicans. This is one act of bipartisanship that can make a huge difference in our Nation's security. The time to act is now.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. His most recent 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.