LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – With just one week until Mitt Romney takes the stage at the GOP convention in Tampa, his campaign rolled out the candidate's energy policy -- one that they hope illustrates stark differences with President Obama, and which excites middle class voters looking for an economic boost.
The Romney policy, spelled out in a white paper and on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, focuses on developing domestic fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal - in large part by shifting federal responsibilities to the states, and by expanding exploration and production nationwide. Romney will outline the policy in oil-rich New Mexico on Thursday.
Romney's plan would make states the custodian of energy production on federal lands within their borders and allow them to implement their own federally-approved leasing practices. Such a move would effectively shift responsibility for permitting, leasing and environmental regulation to states, with the hope of speeding energy development by cutting red tape.
Romney's plan calls for reaching North American energy independence by 2020, primarily through expansion of traditional fossil fuels. The United States is currently the world's third largest oil producer, which Romney would hope to expand. The U.S. also currently imports more than half its oil from countries in the Western Hemisphere, with Canada making up a 29-percent share. Those imports could be increased through greater cooperation and by the immediate approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, and similar projects.
"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 that we have," said Oren Cass, Romney's domestic policy director. "And the real question is are we going to pursue the political reforms that will allow us to develop the resources to their fullest?"
Those reforms will also include greenlighting increased offshore drilling, slowed after 2009's BP oil spill disaster, particularly off the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina where Romney's advisers argue there is already widespread support for increased offshore drilling.
"One of the things that's detailed here in the policy under the offshore section is to establish the most aggressive leasing plan ever put forward, as compared to President Obama's, which was the least aggressive ever put forward," Cass told reporters.
The GOP challenger's plan pays little attention to renewable fuels like wind and solar power, long championed by Democrats, including Obama, who has touted green jobs creation as a major part of his own economic and energy plans.
Romney's plan, in contrast, includes continued research support for alternative fuels, but would have wind and solar generation succeed or fail on their own, without government subsidies or loan guarantees, a politically unpopular position in some wind and solar producing states like Iowa and Colorado, but one Romney's advisers said they believed could be overcome by the overall economic benefits of their plan.
President Obama makes a similar argument about continued oil industry tax subsidies, arguing that the highly profitable major oil companies don't need the tax breaks, the extension of which is supported by Romney.
Romney is expected to further outline his energy plan in remarks later today in New Mexico, the sixth largest oil producing state in the country, pumping roughly 3-percent of the nation's oil on an annual basis, according to the Energy Information Administration.