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Washington • Mitt Romney's proposed energy blueprint, which he says will wean America off foreign oil in seven years, dovetails with what Utah Republicans have wanted: empowering states to control the permitting of oil and gas drilling on federal lands.
Romney's proposal, unveiled in New Mexico, would allow state governments to call the shots on all public lands, except for areas termed "off-limits," and lets state officials regulate oil and gas drilling, bypassing federal land management plans and environmental guidelines.
"This is not some pie in the sky kind of thing," Romney said. "This is a real achievable objective."
Romney said his plan, which mirrors Republican points from the last decade and since President Barack Obama took office, would create three million new jobs and add $500 billion to the economy by fast-tracking production that he says has stalled under Obama.
"That's an opportunity for more Americans to have a bright and prosperous future," Romney said.
The Utah Legislature is already several steps ahead of Romney in trying to wrangle control of federal lands, which make up some 60 percent of the state. Lawmakers passed a law this year directing the federal government to hand over most lands, except national parks, to the state by 2014 and the state is prepared to take the battle to court if federal officials balk.
Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican and chairman of a Natural Resources subcommittee over public lands, was in Hobbs, N.M., for Romney's announcement and said the plan goes to the heart of what's needed to streamline permitting and approval for oil and gas exploration.
"Unnecessary bureaucratic red-tape imposed by the current administration has delayed leasing and ultimately production," Bishop said. "Governor Romney's plan would improve efficiency and accessibility, both of which are key to domestic energy independence."
Environmentalists assailed Romney's plan, saying it guts federal regulations meant to protect the land from sprouting up with oil rigs and decimating scenic and biologically important areas.
"We strongly support the idea of having public lands that were set aside for all Americans for a variety of uses and this is Romney and [running mate Paul] Ryan handing the keys to America's public lands over to the oil and gas industry," says Christy Goldfuss, director of the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. "It's not going to speed anything up, it has a huge amount of questions."
Goldfuss notes that Romney's proposal could endanger national parks since his plan doesn't detail what areas could be off limits.
Obama's campaign denounced Romney's announcement as devoid of any specifics or concrete steps that would realistically increase the nation's energy independence.
"If anything, Romney's policies would take us backward," said campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith. "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."
Smith said Romney's plan would guarantee big oil's profits continue to increase while America ceded the clean-energy sector to China.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert praised Romney's blueprint.
"States must play a significant role in unleashing America's energy potential," he said. "As governor of an energy-producing state, I understand the importance of responsibly developing our energy resources and I applaud Governor Romney for making this important issue a top priority."
State Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, and sponsor of the law seeking Utah control of federal lands in the state, applauded Romney's move.
"It sounds like a step in the right direction, absolutely," Ivory said. "We would look very much forward to working with a federal government as a partner with Governor Romney at the helm."
Energy and natural resource interests have donated $4.2 million to Romney's campaign, making that industry sector among his top contributors, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. That sector provided $1.3 million to Obama's campaign.
Energy sector donates much more to Mitt
Energy and natural resource interests have donated $4.2 million to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's campaign, making that industry sector among his top contributors, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. That sector provided $1.3 million to President Barack Obama's campaign.
What else did Mitt Romney say Thursday?
Health care plan • Mitt Romney said his plan to provide health insurance to everyone in Massachusetts was superior to the one it inspired, President Barack Obama's much-debated national law. "We didn't go out and raise taxes on people and have an unelected board tell people what kind of health care they can have," Romney said in an interview with CBS' Denver affiliate, KCNC.
Fed • Romney said he would not re-appoint Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke when his second term ends in January 2014. "I would want to select someone who was a new member" and "someone who shared my economic views" to the top spot at the U.S. central bank, Romney said.
Sources • The Associated Press, Bloomberg News