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Romney’s Energy Plan Empowers States to Drill on Federal Lands

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Mitt Romney's energy plan, unveiled Thursday in Hobbs, N.M., seeks to establish America "as an energy superpower in the 21st century," according to the 21-page report.

"We have an unprecedented opportunity to make our natural resources a long-term source of competitive advantage for our nation," Romney says in the report. "If we develop these resources to the fullest, we will not only guarantee ourselves an affordable and reliable supply of energy, but also enjoy the benefits throughout our economy."

Romney's energy policies will lead to U.S. energy independence by 2020, according to the proposal. The plan, which will likely irk environmentalists, calls for the following:

  • Aggressively opening more offshore areas for oil drilling (starting in Virginia and the Carolinas).
  • Giving states greater control of energy production and development on federal lands within their borders.
  • Approving the construction of TransCanada's Keystone XL Pipeline.
  • Loosening federal regulations on coal and natural gas production.

[Related: Strategic Oil Reserve Likely to Be Tapped as Gas Prices Rise: Stephen Schork]

The Romney campaign says the presumptive Republican presidential nominee's proposal will result in more than three million new jobs, including more than one million in manufacturing; bring in more than $1 trillion in revenue for federal, state and local governments; lower energy prices for middle-class families; and add $500 billion to the nation's gross domestic product.

The Obama campaign released a statement criticizing Romney's plan: "We will never reach energy independence by turning our backs on homegrown renewable energy and better auto mileage," said Federico Pena, who served as secretary of energy during the Clinton administration.

[Related: Clean Energy: Obama Says It's the Future, Paul Ryan Calls It a Fad]

Romney's plan also places a greater emphasis on coal production, the largest domestically-produced source of energy in the U.S. Coal generates about half the of the nation's electricity but coal-fired power plants account for 98 percent of sulfur dioxide and 92 percent of nitrogen oxides released into the air by power plants, according to the EPA. Romney, who vowed to close an old coal-fired power plant because it "kills people" when he was governor of Massachusetts, now says the Obama administration has "waged a war" on coal producers and his policies have "bankrupt" the coal industry.

Romney's decision to give states more regulatory authority on energy production on federally-owned land could be seen as the most controversial — and most sweeping — change to current energy policy. The Obama administration has reduced the number of acres of federal land available for exploration by 20 percent and the rate of government permits for new energy production has slipped 37 percent since Obama took office, according to Romney. His campaign says it takes the Interior Department — which controls the federal government's leasing program — 307 days to issue permits to drill a new well, compared to 10 days in North Carolina and 27 days in Colorado. Almost two-thirds of federal lands are currently off-limits to drilling and mining, reports The New York Times.

[Related: U.S. Policy Playing "Catch Up" to New Energy Realities, Yergin Says]

The 397 national parks may or may not be included under Romney's proposal to boost oil drilling in states. His campaign says "only lands specially designated off-limits" will be exempt from oil and gas production.

"I am going to be upset as an American if there's an oil well placed in El Capitan Canyon," The Daily Ticker's Henry Blodget says in the attached video. "I have a real problem with this idea that we'll now allow states to do whatever they want on federal land."

Most Americans probably do not want the government to be strip-mining or drilling for oil in our national parks, adds Aaron Task. But a lot of Americans may also not be aware that the nation has increased its energy independence under Obama's watch.

"We are having a boom in domestic production" and "this idea that he [Obama] has stopped all drilling in this country is just factually incorrect," says Task.

[Related: The Fracking Revolution: More Jobs and Cheaper Energy Are Worth the "Manageable" Risks, Yergin Says]

According to the Obama campaign, the U.S. has become a net exporter of fuels for the first time since 1949. In 2010 domestic crude oil production reached its highest level since 2003 and domestic natural gas production in 2010 was greater than it had been in more than 30 years. The Obama administration has also expanded drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska and may soon grant final approval to Shell Oil to drill in the Alaskan Arctic, the first time in two decades.

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