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Oil man preaches energy independence

T. Boone Pickens may seem an odd one to preach the saving graces of alternative energy, given he made his billions running oil and gas companies and investing in companies such as ExxonMobil and Occidental Petroleum.

In a visit to Charlotte last week, he said some people have even suspected he's terminally ill.

"I haven't changed. I'm still an American," he said. He'd drill a new oil well "right now if I had a good place to drill it." But he firmly believes the country can't continue to depend on the 12 million barrels of oil it imports each day for its future. Alternative energy, he said, "has an opportunity now."

More North Carolinians than any other state's residents have signed onto his Pickens Pledge, he said, which asks the presidential candidates, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain, to enact his plan within the first 100 days in office if elected. His army, as Pickens calls it, has hit 158,000 in N.C. and includes Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Kay Hagan and Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole. His plan calls for investing in wind turbines and using natural gas for transportation fuel.

Pickens didn't have an explanation for why he his plan is more popular in the Tar Heel state.

He urged consumers not to be lulled by falling gas prices, which dropped 25 cents a gallon nationwide last week alone. It's false comfort, he says, because gas prices will rise in the future. Ticking off the reasons Americans need to change energy policy, he said: Since 1970, oil imports have grown from 24 percent to nearly 70 percent; Americans consume 25 percent of the world's oil but own 3 percent of the world's oil reserves.

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