LOUISVILLE, KY -- After the bitter battle on Capitol Hill about healthcare reform, a well-known alternative energy advocate predicts Congress will turn to legislation that will help the country toward a bipartisan goal of reducing our dependence on foreign oil.

Energy magnate T. Boone Pickens, speaking at the National NGV (natural gas vehicle) Fleet Summit prior to the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville Wednesday, predicted we would see a bill passed by Memorial Day that would offer a $65,000 tax credit for the purchase of natural gas powered trucks.

When fuel prices skyrocketed in 2008, Pickens, whose career spans six decades in the energy industry, embarked on a mission to reduce U.S. oil imports, especially from unfriendly OPEC countries in the Middle East. A big target in his "Pickens Plan" includes the conversion of what he says are 8 million commercial trucks in this country from diesel to natural gas power.

According to Pickens, the bill in the U.S. House, H.R. 1835, has 141 cosponsors, equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. A very similar bill has been introduced in the Senate, S.1408.

Pickens said he went to Sen. Harry Reid in June of 2008 (now Senate Majority Leader) and was granted 20 minutes to talk about his plan. In the end, he says, he talked for an hour and a half, and Reid pledged his support, despite the fact that Reid is a Democrat and Pickens had been involved in the campaigns of Republicans such as Bob Dole and Rudy Giuliani. He is in touch with Reid regularly, Pickens says, and just two hours before his speech Reid told him he believed the bill would be passed by this summer.

The alternative energy advocate said he had lobbied for a $100,000 tax credit and for the government to require truck owners to buy natural gas vehicles when it came time to trade in their current trucks.

Why Natural Gas

Pickens says there are three reasons to convert to natural gas: It's cheaper than diesel, it's more environmentally friendly, and the U.S. has it in abundance.

Currently, he says, the U.S. imports 13 million barrels of oil a day out of the 21 million we use. Of that, 5 million barrels a day come from OPEC countries in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia. Within the next few years, he says, we'll no longer be able to rely on two of our oil suppliers in the Western hemisphere. Mexico's oil supplies will dry up, and China will buy much of Venezuela's oil.

If we could magically overnight convert all 8 million trucks in the U.S. to natural gas, he said, that would cut the amount of oil we have to import from OPEC in half. On the other hand, he said, "If we go forward without an energy plan, we will be importing 75 perent of our oil in 10 years and paying $300 a barrel."

Each day, Pickens said, the world produces 85 million barrels of oil. The U.S. uses one fourth of the oil produced globally, yet we have only 4 percent of the population. "That is not sustainable," Pickens said. "We cannot continue to use that much oil."

Chicken and Egg Question

During the question and answer session following Pickens' speech, the question was raised about how Pickens proposed to ensure that there would be a natural gas fueling infrastructure, which fleets would demand before they invest in the trucks.

"This is the first question you get in any audience," Pickens said, "who's going to pay for the infrastructure. The people who sell the fuel will build it. All they have to do is have customers."