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Now that Congress has moved past the stimulus bill and is turning its attention to drafting a comprehensive energy bill, Pickens' proposal appears to be gaining steam.
U.S. Representative Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts and chairman of the Commerce and Energy Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, shocked energy insiders in early February when he said, "And I guess the headline is: I agree with T. Boone Pickens."
Senator Harry Reid also says he's onboard, declaring on a conference call with Pickens that he supports the pilot program.
Pickens knows he needs the support of lawmakers such as Reid and Markey and says he's prepared to apply as much pressure as it takes.
"Pressure," he says, "I can assure Washington has not seen before."----
In contrast to his January appearance at Rice University, Pickens has the energy of a fox tearing through a henhouse during a star-studded clean-energy summit one month later at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. He is beaming as he takes his seat between Al Gore and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.
"I hope there's cameras here that have me between two Nobel Prize winners," he says to the crowd. "It would be very exciting if my mother were still alive to see this."
John Podesta and the Center for American Progress assembled a who's who list of Democrats and business leaders for the event, and all of them are treating Pickens like the cute girl in the room.
"The glue that's been holding all this together for months," Reid says, "is T. Boone Pickens. He's put his money where his mouth is. He is my friend, and I say that with all sincerity."
Pickens has been pouring most of his time, energy and money over the past several months on Washington, D.C. He and his interests, PickensPlan.com, Mesa Power and Clean Energy Fuels, spent more than $1 million on lobbyists in 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, hiring prestigious firms such as Patton Boggs. Pickens has said he's got enough cash budgeted to last through Obama's first 100 days in office. He has publicly challenged the new administration to create a wind bank to help finance wind farm start-up costs and says his latest commercials, which focus on national security and job growth, are only airing in and around the D.C. Beltway.
When asked why he's running the new ads now, Pickens says matter of factly, "Well, we thought we needed it, so we did it."
Pickens is not shy about reminding politicians about the more than 1.5 million online Army members he claims to have, saying that in 30 years of lobbying on Capitol Hill, "I'm a hell of a lot more powerful today" than he's ever been.
Pickens is mobilizing his troops and organizing a virtual march on Washington for April 1-3 titled "Three Days That Will Change America." Along with several corporate sponsors, including American Electric Power, Owens Corning and the American Lung Association, Pickens is urging Americans to either e-mail, write letters or go visit their senators and representatives. Public relations man Elliot Sloane, who is promoting the event, says Pickens expects politicians to receive more than a million communications aimed at getting them to pass a favorable energy bill.
Washington insiders, however, say it's tough to gauge how effective Pickens' lobbying efforts have been thus far.
Senate staffers, who would only comment on condition of anonymity, say that while Pickens has a talent for drawing attention and getting news coverage, there's little to no evidence that he's influenced actual legislation.
One senior staffer, who works for an influential Democrat, says that the best thing Pickens can do is to bring his fellow Republicans slightly over to the left on the clean-energy issue.
"Is he setting the agenda?" says the staffer. "No. He may even be behind a lot of Democrats in that area, but you look to your friends on the other side of the aisle wherever you can find them, and if [Pickens] can help bridge the gap between the parties, that's terrific. There is no downside to having T. Boone Pickens in this debate, and there's a lot of upside. I don't know how to measure it, but I am quite certain this man is making something en vogue that wasn't before with a lot of people who would not be onboard otherwise."
While Pickens has shown he can get through virtually every door in Washington, Joe Romm of the Center for American Progress points out that if you look at recent legislation, Pickens has not done a great job swaying Republican lawmakers. After all, no Republican House members voted for the stimulus bill, and only three Republican senators voted for it.
"Anyone who's willing to spend their own money, has a famous name and is doing counterintuitive stuff can always get media coverage," Romm says. However, "he can't be a serious player if he can't bring his own side to the table."