WASHINGTON — Presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry released his economic plan Friday, promising that an energy-centric program to expand offshore drilling and domestic oil and gas exploration would create 1.2 million jobs.
Perry, who spoke at a suburban Pittsburgh steel mill before a hard hat-wearing crowd, is building on the Republican Party's "drill, baby, drill" mantra, He'd move to open federal lands to drilling, including Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and would curtail the Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory powers.
It was Perry's first detailed economic program since he announced Aug. 13 that he was running for president, and it came at a time when he's dropped dramatically in the polls, moving from front-runner to, barely, second-tier status.
The speech also came a day after Perry's wife, Anita, made headlines with her complaints about the "rough month" her family had experienced at the hands of the press and the GOP and her comment that it was God's calling that Perry run for president. Rick Perry praised her on several news programs Friday and supported her comments.
"Well, I do have one of the finest women in the world that I could be married to, and she is passionate," he said on ABC. "She said, 'He's the most conservative candidate in the race,' and 'He's a Christian.' And I can't argue with either of those facts."
Struggling to seize a message of his own, Perry turned to the energy sector — familiar ground to any energy state lawmaker — as the basis for his jobs program.
"The plan I present this morning, Energizing American Jobs and Security, will kick-start economic growth and create 1.2 million jobs," he said.
Saying the premise for his plan is "Make what Americans buy, buy what Americans make and sell it to the world," Perry predicted that, "We are standing atop the next American economic boom ... energy."
"The quickest way to give our economy a shot in the arm is to deploy American ingenuity to tap American energy. But we can only do that if environmental bureaucrats are told to stand down," he said.
"America has proven but untapped supplies of natural gas, oil and coal. America is the Saudi Arabia of coal, with 25 percent of the world's supply. Our country contains up to 134 billion barrels of oil and nearly 1.2 quadrillion cubic feet of natural gas."
Perry said that using executive orders and other executive actions, he'd authorize more drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and offshore. He also would seek congressional authorization to drill in Alaska's ANWR region, a move that's been unsuccessful for pro-energy lawmakers for years.
Perry said Alaska energy efforts alone would create 120,000 jobs.
"We will resume pre-Obama levels of exploration in the Gulf of Mexico and create another 230,000 jobs," he said.
He didn't mention last year's environmental disaster, the BP oil spill in the Gulf, but said that such "ecological treasures" as the Florida Everglades and Yellowstone National Park would remain untouched.
Perry said he'd open up federal and private lands for exploration in states such as Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Colorado and Utah. The Western states could produce 1.3 million barrels of oil per day by 2020, he said, adding that they also contain 87 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Perry's harshest criticism was for the EPA. He said he'd stop "the EPA's draconian measures related to the regulation of greenhouse gases" and return air and water oversight to the states, "rather than imposing one-size-fits-all federal rules."
The campaign of Republican former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney blasted the speech by saying "Perry's plan falls short" in a news release.
Among the criticisms of the plan, which Romney's aides sought to contrast with his own 59-point proposal, is that industry experts have calculated Perry's 1.2 million jobs to develop over 13 years.
Perry's energy proposal also immediately drew fire from President Barack Obama's campaign and from environmental groups.
"Gov. Perry's energy policy isn't the way to win the future, it's straight out of the past — doubling down on finite resources with no plan to promote innovation or to transition the nation to a clean energy economy," Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said.
"The Perry plan would undo safeguards from deadly smog, acid rain, mercury and other pollution," said Daniel Weiss, the director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. "And it ignores a clean tech future while returning to a fossil fuel past. ... The Perry plan should be stamped 'Made By Big Oil.'"
Texas Democratic Party spokeswoman Rebecca Acuna said Perry's speech "was based on outdated ideas and pure political opportunism. He wants to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency and run the federal government like he runs Texas."
Perry plans to unveil the second part of his economic program Oct. 25 in a speech focused on overhauling taxes.
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Perry's Energizing American Jobs and Security plan MORE FROM MCCLATCHY