WEST MIFFLIN, Pa. — Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Friday said unleashing America's energy resources was the key to curing the economy, promising some 1.2 million new jobs and far scaled-back federal regulations if he is elected president.
The White House contender signaled Congress would have little role in the broad changes he proposed, which include expanding energy production on federal lands such as Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, although he pledged to continue the ban on drilling in Florida's Everglades. Perry said he would overhaul the nation's energy policy through executive orders and, in the process, reduce America's reliance on foreign energy sources.
"We must get America working again and a big part of the solution is right under our feet and right off our coasts," the Texas governor said in a steel mill near Pittsburgh. "Creating jobs in America is as simple as changing presidents and that is the choice facing America."
Perry's speech on a "pro-American, pro-jobs energy policy" was as much a reflection of his governing style as his views on protecting the nation's shores and skies.
Perry has spent years in a bitter tit-for-tat with the Environmental Protection Agency, which he accuses of imposing regulations that are expensive and inefficient, forcing energy companies – from drillers to refineries – to cut jobs in order to comply with the laws.
Perry's speech did not mention that it can be years between when drilling begins for new energy sources and a significant number of jobs can be created.
"When it comes to energy, the president would kill domestic jobs through aggressive regulations while I would unleash 1.2 million American jobs through safe-and-aggressive energy exploration at home," Perry said. "President Obama would keep us more dependent on hostile sources of foreign energy, while my plan would make us more secure by tapping America's true energy potential."
The Obama campaign issued a statement suggesting Perry's plan was old-fashioned.
"Governor 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."
Republican rival Michelle Bachmann said the only difference between her energy plan and Perry's was that hers could be implemented "without abusing executive power."
Perry pledged to change the public's view of the nation's abundance of coal.
"America is the Saudi Arabia of coal," he said. "The American economy shouldn't be beaten into the ground when ... lower energy costs lie right under our soil," he said.
With a nod to a capital locked in partisan fights, Perry promised Congress would play only a small part in his plan.
"It can be implemented quicker and free of Washington gridlock because most of it does not require congressional action," Perry said. "Through a series of executive orders and other executive actions we will begin the process of creating jobs soon after the inauguration of a new president."
And, he promised, it would come quickly: within the first hundred days of his administration.
"We're standing on top of the next American economic boom. It's the energy that's under this country."
As Texas governor, Perry has had no success bypassing the legislative branch the way he pledged he would to get his energy policy enacted quickly. He issued an executive order requiring all school age girls to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus that causes cancer. The Republican-controlled Legislature swiftly passed a bill overriding that effort and Perry chose not to veto it in the face of strident opposition.
Perry's environmental speech comes as his campaign tries to move beyond some early bumps and his momentum seems to have slowed. Shaky debate performances took away some of his shine, and as voters got to know details of his record they seemed to sour on yet another GOP contender who was, at one point, an instant front-runner.
Perry hoped to calm those jitters with the speech, delivered at a U.S. Steel Corp. plant that produces sheet metal used to make household appliances. While echoing the popular-with-Republicans call for increased drilling on federal lands, he also appealed to parochial interests in relaxing oversight and allowing drilling in Pennsylvania.
But it is unclear that if shale drilling rules remain slack and the industry increases its activities, this would decrease U.S. reliance on foreign oil. The drilling being done in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio is largely for natural gas, not oil – and the price of gas dictates the speed of production more than regulation or any other factor.
Labor Department data show that only a tiny percentage of companies that experience large layoffs cite government regulation as the reason. Since Obama took office, just two-tenths of 1 percent of layoffs have been due to government regulation, the data show.
Perry also spoke in support of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that is under review at the State Department.
"It's either going to go west to China or south to America. I know where I want it to go," Perry said.
The 1,700-mile pipeline, which would travel through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma, ending up on Texas's Gulf Coast, would carry an estimated 700,000 barrels of oil a day, doubling the capacity of an existing pipeline from Canada. Supporters say it could significantly reduce U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil.
The project has become a flashpoint for environmental groups who say it would bring "dirty oil" that requires huge amounts of energy to extract and could cause an ecological disaster in case of a spill.
"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," Perry said.
Texas has some of the most limited drilling regulations, but the state is also coming under fire from its own residents – many of them staunch Republican, energy-backing conservatives – who are demanding the industry be held to higher standards.
____Associated Press writer Ramit Plushnick-Masti in Houston and Chris Rugaber in Washington contributed to this report.