Romney energy plan would hand drilling powers to states

Mitt Romney hopes to seize the political offensive on energy with a new policy blueprint that hands greater powers to states and calls for North American energy independence by 2020.

Campaign advisers unveiled the plan — which is packed with attacks against the White House — on Wednesday ahead of Romney’s energy-themed speech in New Mexico on Thursday.


A top adviser said Romney plans to highlight the topic going forward. “The governor will be emphasizing this between now and the election. We think it is a very high-priority issue for the American voters,” said Ed Gillespie, a senior campaign adviser, on a call with reporters Wednesday evening.

The new "white paper" promotes the economic and employment potential of wider energy production, and adds some detail to the former Massachusetts governor's previously released positions.

Campaign advisers sought to fit the plan into a wider assault on the White House economic record. “As a result of the president’s policies, energy prices are higher, there are fewer jobs, our industries are less competitive and family budgets are further strained,” Gillespie said.

But the plan — and Romney’s broadsides against White House energy policies — drew immediate pushback from President Obama’s campaign, which noted its arrival follows Romney’s Texas fundraising swing with energy executives Tuesday.

“Only two days after a fundraiser hosted by the CEO of major oil companies, Romney is expected to defend billions in oil subsidies while opposing efforts to use oil more efficiently and develop homegrown alternative energy. We will never reach energy independence by turning our backs on homegrown renewable energy and better auto mileage,” said Federico Pena, who was secretary of Energy in the Clinton administration, ahead of Romney’s speech Thursday.

Overall, Romney's plan sets a goal of making North America energy-independent by 2020, an idea Romney previously has floated on the stump.

Canada is already the biggest supplier of oil to the United States, and Mexico is a major source too, but the United States also receives large supplies from Saudi Arabia (it’s the second-largest source of U.S. imports, after Canada) and other OPEC nations.

The blueprint lays out several policies to help meet the 2020 goal. It would upend current oversight by handing states broad new powers to control development of various forms of energy on millions of acres of federal lands within their borders.

This would greatly diminish the power of federal regulators that Republicans accuse of stymieing production and tying up projects in red tape.

“States will be empowered to establish processes to oversee the development and production of all forms of energy on federal lands within their borders, excluding only lands specially designated off-limits,” the plan states. “State regulatory processes and permitting programs for all forms of energy development will be deemed to satisfy all requirements of federal law.”

Federal agencies would retain power to certify that state processes are adequate under Romney's proposal, but the plan notes that the criteria would be “broad” and that states would have “maximum flexibility.”

While overall U.S. oil and natural-gas production has been rising for years, Republicans have seized on a recent dip in production from federally controlled areas to allege the Obama administration has been stifling development.

But administration officials have strongly rebutted the charge, noting that oil production from federal lands and waters rose earlier in the Obama years and that they support expanded drilling.

“President Obama has championed an all-of-the-above approach to energy that responsibly develops America’s great natural resources. And under President Obama, we are producing the most natural gas ever, the most oil in 14 years, and are on track to double the amount of electricity we get from renewable sources like wind and solar,” Pena said.

And changes in gas-production patterns stem from a market-led migration of development away from federal areas to gas-rich shale plays in states such as Pennsylvania, where the resources generally underlie state and private lands, a top Interior Department official noted recently. More on that here.

Elsewhere, Romney’s plan calls for expanding energy ties with Canada and Mexico through a “North American Energy Partnership.”

The Obama administration has taken steps to boost collaboration with Canada and Mexico through various partnerships.

But the plan nonetheless alleges that Obama has “chosen to turn his back on America’s neighbors,” citing the failure (thus far) to approve the Keystone XL pipeline that would bring oil from Canada’s oil sands projects to Gulf Coast refineries.

It calls for a regional agreement to spur cross-border investment, infrastructure and sales, and other steps to boost collaboration, including “fast track” approvals for cross-border pipelines and other infrastructure.

The plan includes previously issued calls for expanded offshore oil-and-gas leasing, including regions off the Atlantic Coast that White House policies keep off-limits. Romney’s offshore leasing proposal would include minimum production targets for each five-year plan and "streamlining" of drilling permits, among other steps.

Other policies include new deadlines for environmental reviews of energy projects, better coordination between federal agencies and “allowing state reviews to satisfy federal requirements,” among other goals.

The policies would benefit coal development, the plan states, while Gillsepie took aim at EPA regulations that critics say will badly wound the coal industry.

The plan says expanded oil-and-gas leasing and other policies in the plan to bolster development can help bring in “trillions” of dollars in government revenue through lease payments, royalties and taxes.

However, a recent analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that a massive oil-and-gas leasing expansion would bring quite limited new revenues in the next decade.

On nuclear, Romney would seek to enable the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to “approve new designs and to license approved reactor designs on approved sites within two years.”

For alternative energy, the plan and Romney’s advisers are emphasizing the presumptive GOP nominee's support for federally backed basic research, and opposition to policies like loan guarantees and subsidies for green energy projects that Romney casts as undue and wasteful federal intrusion into the market.

It also claims that “streamlining” regulations and permitting will “benefit the development of both traditional and alternative energy sources.”

Romney opposes extension of soon-to-expire tax credits that help finance new wind energy projects, a position that has angered a number of top Republicans in Iowa, a swing state where the wind sector has been expanding. But Gillespie on Wednesday predicted a Romney win there.