By Ben Geman - 08/25/12 10:00 AM EDT
Mitt Romney used the run-up to next week’s nominating convention to stage a high-profile rollout of his energy platform, seeking a political boost with a pro-drilling message that promises North American energy independence by 2020.
Romney campaign strategist Russ Schriefer said there won’t be any letup at the convention.
“We believe energy independence, our ability for America to harness its own natural resources to help this economy, is important,” he said on a call with reporters, noting that several speakers will talk about Romney’s plan at the convention.
But new polling suggests Romney has lots of ground to make up on energy, which is playing an increasingly high-profile role in the 2012 race.
A USA Today/Gallup poll released Friday, but conducted before Romney floated his plan, shows Obama with a 13-point lead over his rival on energy.
That's despite months of GOP efforts to tether President Obama to high gasoline prices — criticisms that put the White House on the defensive earlier this year when pump prices neared $4-per-gallon.
But one GOP strategist said the energy plan bolsters Romney’s central message on the economy, an issue that favors the presumptive GOP nominee, according to polls. The USA Today/Gallup poll gave Romney a lead of 9 points on the economy.
Romney has cast his energy plans as part of his broader approach to reviving the economy, arguing it will create jobs and aid domestic manufacturing.
“Talking about energy opens up a secondary front [against] Obama about economic issues,” said GOP strategist Tyler Harber, a partner at Harcom Strategies.
The Romney proposal is stuffed with criticism of the White House, and Obama campaign strategists are seeking to leave no attacks unanswered, filling up reporters’ inboxes with rebuttals.
The campaign staged a Thursday call with a top campaign official to bash the GOP plan.
White House officials have strongly pushed back against allegations that they have hindered development, noting overall nationwide oil and natural-gas production has been rising in recent years while import reliance has dropped.
Obama campaign aides on Thursday cast Romney’s plan as a sop to the oil industry, and argued it fails to acknowledge the benefits of green energy and auto efficiency.
Romney backs basic federal R&D into green energy research but has panned programs like wind energy tax credits and loan guarantees for green energy projects.
“What Mitt Romney outlined ... was not a recipe for energy independence. It was just the same old scheme to line the pockets of Big Oil,” said Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager, who argued the plan would also cede green energy markets to China.
Critics have also taken aim at Romney’s emphasis on fossil fuels, arguing he shortchanges renewable energy.
Joshua Freed of the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way argued Romney won’t get a political lift from the proposal.
“The public is looking for what each candidates’ vision of the future is like. Romney had an opportunity to provide a forward-looking energy vision. He didn’t,” said Freed, the vice president for clean energy at Third Way.
“They are playing to their base,” he said.
As for the plan itself, The Hill’s E2-Wire has much more here.
Romney argues that his plan can ensure North American independence by expanding access to offshore resources and onshore supplies tapped through hydraulic fracturing, speeding up permitting, improving energy partnerships with Canada on pipelines (including approval of the Keystone XL project) and other infrastructure, and paring back what he calls regulatory burdens, among other steps.
It includes opening Atlantic Coast areas to oil-and-gas leasing that are off-limits under White House plans, and would hand states major new powers to control energy development on federal lands within their borders.
“An expansion in the affordable, reliable supply of domestically produced energy can bolster the competitiveness of virtually every industry within the country, creating millions of new jobs from coast to coast,” Romney’s plan states.
U.S. oil and natural gas production is already on the upswing, and the federal Energy Information Administration expects crude oil production to average 6.3 million barrels per day in 2012, the highest since 1997, and is forecast to keep rising through 2020.
But Romney argues the U.S. could be producing much more.
American reliance on OPEC crude is dropping. However, EIA projects that under current policy, the U.S. will still be importing well over two million barrels per day from OPEC in 2020, among other supplies from outside North America.
The U.S. also buys oil from its neighbor to the north. Canada is the nation's largest foreign supplier, and is forecast by EIA to be providing 2.4 million barrels per day worth in 2020, a figure that does not assume approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Romney's plan has attracted criticism from outside experts. Michael Levi, an energy expert with the Council on Foreign Relations, writes on Foreign Policy magazine's website that it has some good ideas but ultimately “overpromises on results.”
Levi also notes that it’s mum on the “grave challenge” of climate change.