WASHINGTON — An energy plan Mitt Romney unveiled Thursday adopts familiar GOP ideas for weaning the United States off foreign oil by boosting offshore drilling and relaxing environmental regulations.
Although both President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger view energy development as a way to rev up the economy and create jobs, Romney focuses on the oil and gas sector.
In a 21-page white paper detailing his energy agenda, Romney touts oil more than 150 times but includes scant mention of alternatives. His plan also underscores his resistance to federal oversight of oil and gas development on 245 million acres of public lands, and to government regulation he says is stifling domestic production.
“Sometimes I have the impression that the whole regulatory attitude of the Obama administration is trying to stop oil and gas and coal, that they don’t want those sources (and) instead they want to get those things so expensive and so rare that wind and solar become highly cost-effective and efficient,” Romney said Thursday at a rally in Hobbs, N.M.
“Look, I like wind and solar like the next person, but I don’t want the law to be used to stop the production of oil and gas and coal.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Romney’s plan appeared to be dictated by Big Oil and stressed that Obama is committed to an “all-of-the-above” strategy that combines traditional fossil fuels with alternative energy sources.
“While the Republican approach denigrates forms of energy like wind, this president believes that investing in renewable energy is essential to enhancing our energy independence,” Carney said.
In a major change, Romney would put states in control of permitting oil and gas projects on federal lands within their borders, upending the long-standing approach that leaves Interior Department regulators in charge of those permitting decisions as well as the lengthy environmental reviews required by federal law.
The idea plays to the oil industry, which generally can count on more influence — and speedier drilling permits — with state regulators in the West and other resource-rich regions.
Industry advocates also insist that state regulators are better able to balance environmental concerns with energy development — the same argument they use to combat federal rules governing hydraulic fracturing and other drilling techniques.
But Romney’s idea is a nonstarter with Democrats and moderate Republicans on Capitol Hill, who say states would be less likely to protect the environment as well as hunting, grazing and recreational uses of those lands.
Daniel Weiss, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, said the change would “undo decades of bipartisan support for using these places for the benefit of all Americans.”
“Big Oil wants states to oversee oil drilling on these public lands because the states are less likely to protect other values, including clean air and water, hunting, fishing, camping and grazing,” Weiss said.
Romney said his plan creates a path to North American energy independence by 2020.
“This is not some pie-in-the-sky thing,” he said during the rally. “This is achievable.”
The continent is already on that trajectory, thanks to existing energy policies and new boons in oil and gas development, including the extraction of fossil fuels from dense rock formations using sophisticated new technology.
In the same Raymond James report that Romney cites as a foundation for his energy plan, analysts Marshall Adkins and Pavel Molchanov note that “U.S. oil and gas companies have already overcome government roadblocks … and geological challenges to reverse a nearly four-decade-long decline in oil supply.”
Under existing policies, oil imports — including those from Canada and Mexico — will steadily decline to about a third of the United States’ total consumption over the next two decades, according to the government’s Energy Information Administration.
And the agency predicts imports could drop even further under new fuel economy standards for cars and trucks in model years 2017 through 2025 that were proposed under the Obama administration but criticized by Romney.
When it comes to offshore oil and gas development, Romney sticks to familiar territory, insisting that the U.S. should be harvesting more resources from the East and West coasts, which are off limits under the administration’s new schedule for selling offshore drilling leases over the next five years.
Obama’s Interior Department is planning 12 auctions of drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico as well as three lease sales for territories around Alaska. Federal regulators also are on track to approve Shell Oil Co.’s plans to drill two wells in Arctic waters near Alaska this summer, over fierce objections from environmentalists.
But Romney pledged to toss out Obama’s five-year drilling plan and replace it with one “that aggressively opens new areas for development, beginning with those off the coast of Virginia and the Carolinas.”
Romney’s campaign said his plan for boosting domestic energy development would lead to more than 3 million new jobs by 2020 — both on the oil field as well as in a long supply chain that sells drillers everything from pipe to boots. His primary evidence is a bullish Citigroup analysis from March that cast North America as “the new Middle East.”
Obama also has touted job growth tied to energy development, including wind power, where future gains may be jeopardized if a valuable production tax credit expires later this year.
In a stark difference between the two candidates, Romney has said he wants to end the tax credit, and Obama’s campaign has insisted that without its renewal, tens of thousands of jobs could be on the line.
More content on Romney’s energy plan: