Romney energy plan aims to expand drilling on federal land

In what his campaign is billing as a major policy speech, Mitt Romney will unveil 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.

Under current law, the federal government controls oil, coal and gas permits for federal lands. But in a speech at an oilfield services company in Hobbs. N.M., Romney will argue that 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.”

In his speech, Romney will contend 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.

“Allowing for greater domestic energy production will be of immense benefit when it comes to jobs and affordable energy for working Americans and middle class families,” Ed Gillespie, a senior adviser to the Romney campaign, said in a conference call Wednesday previewing the candidate’s speech.

The push is part of what Romney will tout as 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 comes amid criticism that he hasn’t been specific enough about what exactly he would do as president. A Romney aide acknowledged that some of the ideas Romney will talk about Thursday he’s pitched previously on the campaign trail. But aides insisted the speech will offer more details about how Romney’s policies would work as part of a larger effort to improve the economy. Romney will also press 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, said. “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.

Ahead of Romney’s speech, the Obama campaign suggested Romney still wouldn’t be specific enough about his energy plans. And an Obama surrogate questioned his close ties to the energy industry. On Tuesday, Romney raised roughly $7 million during a fundraising swing through Texas, which included a finance luncheon with energy industry leaders.

“Gov. Romney is expected to lay out lofty energy goals, but how will he actually get us there?” Federico Pena, a former energy secretary under President Bill Clinton, said in a statement issued by the Obama campaign. “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.”

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,” Gillespie said.

Romney is set to speak in New Mexico at 12:55 p.m. ET.

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