Romney energy plan aims to expand drilling on federal land

In what his campaign billed as a major policy speech, Mitt Romney unveiled an energy plan Thursday that would give states the power to determine whether drilling and mining should occur on federal lands within their borders as part of a larger effort to increase domestic oil, coal and natural gas production and achieve energy independence by 2020.

"This is not some pie-in-the-sky kind of thing," Romney said during a speech at an oilfield services company in Hobbs, N.M. "This is a real, achievable objective."

Under current law, the federal government controls oil, coal and gas permits for federal lands. But Romney argued determination should be up to state officials, insisting individual states are in a better position to "develop, adopt and enforce regulations" on local basis than the federal government--which his campaign says has been unduly influenced by Washington politics.

A policy paper released ahead of the candidate's speech by the Romney campaign argues President Barack Obama "has intentionally sought to shut down oil, gas and coal production in pursuit of his own alternative energy agenda."

Romney said that loosening regulations on the energy industry will benefit taxpayers by lowering gas costs and reducing the cost of consumer goods, which have increased as companies pay higher energy prices. He'll argue that allowing more federal drilling would not only bring money back into the nation's budget but would result in lower energy prices that could create jobs, lower the trade deficit and increase the nation's security.

"Three million jobs come back to this country by taking advantage of something we have right underneath our feet. That's oil, and gas, and coal. We're going to make it happen. We're going to create those jobs," Romney said Thursday. "Let me tell you what else it does. It adds $500 billion to the size of our economy. That is more good wages. That's an opportunity for more Americans to have a bright and prosperous future."

The push is part of what Romney touted as an effort to achieve energy independence by 2020, a plan that also includes expanding offshore energy development along the coast of Virginia and North and South Carolina as well as approval of the Keystone energy pipeline linking Canada to the United States.

Romney's speech came amid criticism that he hasn't been specific enough about what exactly he would do as president. In a conference call ahead of the speech, a Romney aide acknowledged that some of the ideas the candidate detailed Thursday he's pitched previously on the campaign trail. But aides insisted the speech offered more details about how Romney's policies would work as part of a larger effort to improve the economy. Romney also pressed the idea that government is standing in the way of the U.S. achieving energy independence—an argument the presumptive Republican nominee has made in the past.

"The challenge in getting there is not about the resources we have. It's not about the technology we have. It's about the government we have," Oren Cass, Romney's domestic policy director, told reporters in a conference call Wednesday. "The real question is are we going to pursue the political reforms that will allow us to develop the resources to their fullest."

But the Romney campaign presented different calculations from what has been previously suggested about the impact of the candidate's proposed policies, including the impact of drilling on federal lands. A recent Congressional Budget Office report suggested that opening nearly all federal lands to drilling would yield just $7 billion in government revenue over the next decade—a vast difference from "trillions of dollars" estimated by the Romney campaign.

Asked about the disparity, Cass said the campaign was including revenues from both onshore and offshore drilling on federal lands and suggested the CBO had produced lower numbers by not including lease payments, royalties and taxes certain to be earned in coming "years and decades."

"If you keep in mind that this is something that America is going to be able to sustainably produce over years and decades, the aggregate total is much higher," Cass said.

Responding to Romney's speech, the Obama campaign accused the candidate of still not being specific enough about what his energy goals are and questioned his ties to the oil and gas industry. On Tuesday, Romney raised roughly $7 million during a fundraising swing through Texas, which included a finance luncheon with energy industry leaders.

"His energy speech today was devoid of any policy specifics or concrete steps that would realistically increase our nation's energy independence," Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement. "If anything, Romney's policies would take us backward. He wants to keep giving billions of dollars in tax subsidies to the big oil and gas companies and recklessly open new areas for drilling, but turn our back on increasing energy efficiency and developing our clean, homegrown energy sources. That's not a recipe for energy independence."

But the Romney campaign rejected criticism of Romney's ties to the energy industry and insisted his proposals would benefit all Americans.

"Unleashing those resources … the beneficiaries of that are consumers and families and workers who will get the benefit of more jobs and more affordable energy," Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney adviser, said.