By Steve Holland
LITTLE ROCK, Ark., Aug 23 (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will lay out policies on Thursday aimed at achieving North American energy independence by 2020 by pursuing a sharp increase in production of oil and natural gas on federal lands and off the U.S. coast.
Romney is to unveil his plan at a truck and supply business in Hobbs, New Mexico, as he seeks to draw a sharp contrast between his energy policies and those of President Barack Obama and detail in part how he would rekindle job growth in the United States.
His emphasis on the economy amounts to an effort to return the campaign to the central issue Romney believes is most critical in the Nov. 6 election and the key to a victory for him.
The economic debate has to a certain extent been sidelined in recent days by controversial remarks about rape by a Senate Republican candidate in Missouri, Todd Akin, who Romney has denounced.
Romney's energy policies are heavily tilted toward increased production of carbon-based resources, oil, gas and coal, that environmentalists blame for global warming. He is outlining the policy two days after going over some of the details with executives from the oil industry who contributed to his campaign at fund-raising events in Texas.
Republicans are eager to make greater use of the U.S. energy supply to increase jobs for Americans suffering amid an 8.3 percent unemployment rate. They would curtail some federal regulations to permit more production.
Romney is to predict that a full-blown energy plan will create 3 million jobs in energy sectors and other areas, part of an ambitious effort to create 12 million jobs during a Romney presidency.
"I want every American who wants a good job to be able to have one," Romney told Republicans at a fund-raising event in Little Rock on Wednesday.
The centerpiece of Romney's energy plan is to permit individual states to manage energy development on federal lands within their borders, according to a "white paper" released by the campaign and a briefing for reporters by senior aides in advance of the speech.
Currently the federal government controls development on these lands, and Romney's aides said that under Obama, this has led to a sharp reduction in exploration over the past year.
Letting states issue permits for exploration on federal lands would speed up the process, Romney will argue.
Romney would also open up areas off the East Coast to oil exploration, and in particular would reverse Obama's decision to suspend development off the coast of Virginia following the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
He would establish a five-year offshore leasing plan that would open new areas for development beginning with those off the coast of Virginia and the Carolinas.
A North American energy partnership with Canada and Mexico would also be sought and Romney would allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas, which has been delayed by the Obama administration.
"I'm going to take advantage of our energy resources: Oil, coal, gas, nuclear, renewables, wind, solar. North America will be energy independent by the last year of my second term," he said.
The plan makes little mention of climate change or greenhouse gases. Romney policy adviser Oren Cass said Romney supports green energy and government spending on energy research, but opposes loan guarantees for green companies.
A tax credit for the wind industry expires at the end of this year. Obama supports an extension of it while Romney opposes it even though it could hurt him with voters in Iowa and Colorado. Cass said the wind industry has lost 10,000 jobs and growth has slowed.
"Gov. Romney is focused on actually setting the wind industry up to be a competitive, innovative industry that can succeed on its own two feet, like so many other successful and profitable industries in the country," he said.
Related on HuffPost:
With A Little Help From My Friends (Joe Cocker)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/28/mitt-romney-will-not-repu_n_1551540.html" target="_hplink">(May 28, 2012) --</a></strong> Despite a resurgence of <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/05/25/mitt-romney-s-new-bff-donald-trump.html" target="_hplink">Donald Trump's birther claims</a>, Romney refused to repudiate the billionaire, who has been helping with his 2012 campaign efforts. "You know, I don't agree with all the people who support me ... I need to get 50.1 percent or more and I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people," Romney said. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Who Let The Dogs Out (Baha Men)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/16/mitt-romney-seamus_n_1429925.html" target="_hplink">(April 16, 2012) -- </a></strong> In an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, Romney discussed the political fallout over strapping his dog Seamus to a car roof. He admits that he probably would not do it again. (Handout)
It's The End Of The World As We Know It (R.E.M.)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/04/mitt-romney-medicare-president-obama_n_1403267.html" target="_hplink">WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 4, 2012) --</a></strong> Speaking before the Newspaper Association of America, Romney attacked Barack Obama on his health record, claiming the president "has taken a series of steps that end Medicare as we know it." (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
For The Love Of Money (The O'Jays)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/14/mitt-romney-i-made-a-lot-of-money_n_1345516.html" target="_hplink"><strong>NEW YORK, N.Y. (March 14, 2012) -- </strong></a> Romney became testy on Fox News while discussing his appeal to lower-income voters. On the same day, Occupy Wall Street protesters staged a demonstration outside Mitt's Waldorf Astoria hotel fundraiser. (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)
People Are Strange (The Doors)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/09/mitt-romney-south_n_1334478.html" target="_hplink">PASCAGOULA, Miss. (March 9, 2012) --</a></strong> While on the trail in Alabama and Mississippi, Romney got in touch with his Southern side, learning how to say "y'all" and liking his grits. With those new experiences in hand, he admitted that "strange things are happening to me." (Photo: AP/Evan Vucci)
Pink Cadillac (Bruce Springsteen)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/24/mitt-romney-cadillac_n_1299740.html" target="_hplink"><strong>DETROIT, Mich. (Feb. 24, 2012) -- </strong></a> While speaking before the Detroit Economic Club at Ford Field, Romney listed not two, not three, but four American-made cars that he and his wife, Ann, owned. Among the vehicles: "a couple of Cadillacs." (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
It's The Hard-Knock Life (Annie & The Orphans)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/01/mitt-romney-very-poor_n_1246557.html" target="_hplink">TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 1, 2012) --</a></strong> In an interview with CNN, Romney noted that he is "not concerned about the very poor," citing the social safety net for that segment of the populace. (Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
America The Beautiful
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/31/mitt-romney-america-the-beautiful-_n_1243908.html" target="_hplink"><strong>THE VILLAGES, Fla. (Jan. 31, 2012) --</strong></a> On the eve of Florida's primary, Romney led his supporters in a singing of the patriotic song. (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)
Successful (Drake, Lil Wayne)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/19/mitt-romney-tax-returns_n_1217708.html" target="_hplink"> <strong>CHARLESTON, S.C. (Jan. 19, 2012) -- </strong></a> During CNN's GOP debate, Romney refused to commit to disclosing his tax returns, offering no apologies for his success. (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)
Bye Bye Bye ('N Sync)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/09/mitt-romney-i-like-being-able-to-fire-people_n_1194115.html" target="_hplink"><strong>NASHUA, N.H. (Jan. 9, 2012) -- </strong></a> In a speech about insurance options, Romney tells audience members, "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me." (Photo:AP/Charles Dharapak)
Don't Know Why (Norah Jones)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/28/mitt-romney-embraces-climate-change-denial_n_1063905.html" target="_hplink">PITTSBURGH, Pa. (Oct. 27, 2011) --</a></strong> Back in June 2011, Romney said humans are somewhat tied to climate change. By October, he had reversed course, saying "We don't know what causes climate change." (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)