Rick Perry’s energy plan revives ‘Drill, baby, drill’

Gov. Rick Perry is set to unveil an energy plan for the country today that he says will unleash 1.2 million jobs while unlocking America’s oil, gas and coal resources.

“We’re sitting on a treasure trove of energy in this country,” Perry said on CNBC’s “The Kudlow Report” Thursday night. “There’s 300 years worth of reserves underneath the land of America, and that’s how we’re going to get America working again.”

Perry is set to reveal more details during an 9:30 a.m. Central event at a steel plant in West Mifflin, Pa. But the Republican presidential hopeful has already made clear that the energy proposal is the cornerstone of his plan for reviving the U.S. economy.

“Americans want to hear a conversation about who is going to get this country back working again,” Perry said on NBC’s “Today Show” this morning. “We’ve got to get this country focused on getting back to work, and we’re laying out a plan that does that.”

If elected, Perry has promised to use his first 100 days in the White House to roll back Obama administration policies he says have “curtailed energy production,” including “job-killing” regulations imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

He also has vowed to expand oil and gas drilling by allowing development in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and along the Atlantic Coast. In a Union-Leader op-ed, Perry also insisted that “we can create hundreds of thousands of jobs and increase our oil output by 25 percent if we fully develop oil and gas shale formations in the Northeast, mountain West and Southwest.”

Perry has repeatedly stressed that his energy goals can be imposed swiftly and unilaterally — without any sign-off by Congress.

But a statutory ban blocks drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Although lawmakers got rid of a statutory moratorium blocking drilling along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts in 2008, a federal law still bars that exploration in the eastern Gulf of Mexico through 2022.

And much of the nation’s shale gas resources are on state — not federal — lands, limiting how much power any president would have to spur production there. For instance, New York residents and policy makers have been divided over how — and whether — to allow natural gas drilling of the Marcellus Shale in that state.

Before the 2010 oil spill, President Barack Obama was on track to sell oil and gas drilling leases along the Atlantic seaboard and in Arctic waters near Alaska. But he has since reversed course, and his Interior Department is now finalizing a 2012-2017 leasing plan for the outer continental shelf that does not include auctions of those areas.

The Obama administration has pledged to sell leases in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve by the end of this year — responding to criticisms from congressional Republicans and industry leaders that the 23-million acre territory has gone untapped for too long.

Perry is including development of the ANPR in his energy plan.

Although presidents enjoy wide latitude to decide what federal lands and waters should be auctioned off for oil and gas development, there are legal constraints on the process. For instance, federal law requires offshore lease sales be included in a broader outer continental shelf lease plan before those auctions can take place. The current plan expires June 30 next year, after two more auctions of Gulf of Mexico leases.

Under a federal law known as the National Environmental Policy Act, the government is also required to study the environmental implications of proposed sales before those auctions can take place. Skipping those studies could invite lawsuits that might delay exploration for months, if not longer.

That’s exactly the kind of problem that snagged the government’s 2008 sale of nearly 500 leases to drill in the Chukchi Sea near Alaska. After conservationists and native Alaskan organizations successfully challenged the sale as invalid — because sufficient environmental studies weren’t done beforehand — a federal district court ordered the government to redo those assessments. Obama’s Interior Department just decided to uphold those leases earlier this month, clearing the way for Shell Oil Co., and other companies to pursue drilling in the Arctic waters.

Perry brushed aside those legal challenges today and insisted he could reproduce Texas’ “tort reform” efforts on the national stage.

“I’m not sure that you have to have that type of legal system that locks down the opening up of our federal lands and waters,” he said on the “Today Show.”

Perry is also hammering on a popular theme among Republican presidential hopefuls in targeting the Environmental Protection Agency and regulations it has issued or is proposing that govern pollution from power plants, refiners and industrial facilities. He accuses the Obama administration of “being in bed with the environmental activists” and imposing ever-higher regulatory barriers that are killing jobs.

Perry said he would swiftly “pull back all of the job-killing regulations that this administration has sent forward . . . in conjunction with an activist environmental community working hand in hand with this administration.”

Environmentalists say Perry’s energy plan is a dangerous continuation of the “Drill, baby, drill” motto and politics that dominated the 2008 election.

Daniel J. Weiss, a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress Action Fund, said that in going after jobs tied to oil and gas exploration and rolling back environmental regulations, Perry would be thwarting promising jobs tied to clean energy.

“Gutting health safeguards from air pollution . . . is a recipe for more premature deaths and hospitalizations, with few additional jobs and no investment in the fast-growing clean tech sector,” Weiss said. “The Perry petroleum plan looks backwards by reviving the Bush-Cheney plan developed in secret with big oil companies rather than providing a path to cleaner, more efficient energy production and consumption.”

Speaking at a Politico event this morning, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson warned against proposals to undo environmental regulations.

“Poll after poll shows that’s not where the American people are,” she said. “They do not believe that jobs are tied to weakening environmental protections and taking the environmental cop off the beat.”

Check back on FuelFix later this morning for more coverage of Perry’s energy plan.