Romney energy plan emphasizes states' role, N. American alliances

US states would play a bigger part in federal onshore energy development decisions, more offshore areas would be open for oil and gas development, and the federal government would pursue stronger alliances with Canada and Mexico if Mitt Romney is elected president, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate’s campaign said as it released its energy plan.

The proposal also would “ensure accurate assessment of energy resources, restore transparency and fairness to permitting and regulation, and facilitate private sector-led development of new energy technologies,” it added on Aug. 23.

“An affordable, reliable supply of energy is crucial to America’s economic future,” Romney said in a statement posted at the campaign’s web site. “I have a vision for an America that is an energy superpower, rapidly increasing our own production and partnering with our allies Canada and Mexico to achieve energy independence on this continent. If I am elected president, that vision will become a reality by the end of my second term.”

Under his proposal, states would be empowered to establish processes to oversee development of all forms of energy within their borders, excluding land which is specifically designated off-limits.

“State regulatory processes and permitting programs for all forms of energy development will be deemed to satisfy all requirements of federal law,” it said. “Federal agencies will certify state processes as adequate, according to established criteria that are sufficiently broad, to afford the states maximum flexibility to ascertain what is most appropriate.”

The federal government also would encourage formation of a State Energy Development Council, where states could work together along with the Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission, the State Review of Oil & Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (STRONGER), and other existing organizations to share expertise and best management practices, the plan said.

Offshore strategy

It said a Romney administration would establish a new 5-year US Outer Continental Shelf management program which would “aggressively open new areas for development, beginning with those off the coast of Virginia and the Carolinas.”

Minimum production targets would be set for each 5-year program, requiring annual progress reports to Congress and implementation of new policies to compensate for any shortfall. State-of-the-art offshore drilling processes and safeguards would be implemented “in a manner to support rather than block exploration and production,” the plan said.

A Romney administration’s pursuit of a stronger North American energy partnership would begin with immediate approval of the proposed Keystone XL crude oil pipeline project.

It also would establish a regional agreement to facilitate cross-border energy investment, infrastructure, and sales; institute fast-track approval processes for cross-border pipelines and other infrastructure; and promote cooperation among governments to encourage responsible energy production, including a forum to share best practices and technologies.

The plan aims to ensure accurate energy resource assessments by approving permits for seismic surveys and exploration offshore to immediately update decades-old information, require sharing of onshore geologic and geophysical information with the US Department of the Interior, undertake new seismic analysis in offshore areas not included in the new leasing plan, and collaborate with Canada and Mexico to ensure accurate inventories of their resources and sharing of data.

Regulatory transparency

The Romney energy plan also aims to restore fairness to federal permitting and regulation. It would “implement measured reforms…to strengthen environmental protection without destroying jobs, paralyzing industry, or barring the use of resources like coal.” It would try to improve environmental reviews by setting clear deadlines and statutes of limitations, requiring better coordination among federal agencies, and allowing state reviews to satisfy federal requirements.

Federal agencies would be prevented from using so-called “sue-and-settle” techniques behind closed doors to circumvent the public rulemaking process, impose onerous regulations, and tie the hands of future administrations, the plan continued. It also would require disclosure of federal funds used to reimburse groups for lawsuits against the government.

“Laws should promote a rational approach to regulation that takes cost into account,” the plan said. “Regulations should be carefully crafted to support rather than impede development. Repetitive reviews and strategic lawsuits should not be allowed to endlessly delay progress or force the government into imposing rules behind closed doors that it would not approve in public.”

The plan concluded with a new technology strategy “across the full spectrum of energy technologies.” It would support energy source competition by maintaining the federal Renewable Fuel Standard and eliminate barriers to diversifying the electric power grid and motor vehicles. Energy development expansion policies would apply broadly to all sources, from oil and gas to coal to wind, solar, hydroelectric, and other renewable sources.

Responding to the Romney campaign’s proposals, American Petroleum Institute Pres. Jack N. Gerard said the proposals would encourage the public conversation about energy that API’s Vote 4 Energy campaign is trying to develop.

“Voters understand that we hold the keys to our own energy future,” he observed. “America has been described as the next Middle East in what it has in the form of oil and gas. With pro-development policies, we could create millions of new jobs and provide billions of dollars of revenue to our government.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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