Rick Perry to unveil far-reaching energy plan

— -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry is set to unveil a far-reaching energy plan Friday that would dramatically expand oil and gas exploration — and, he may hope, also reboot his presidential campaign.

In the first major policy address since he jumped in the race in August, Perry will propose expanded energy production on federal lands and offshore, rolling back clean-air regulations, ending many incentives for development of renewable energy, and curtailing the ability of critics to mount court challenges.

The speech will focus attention on a key part of the economy familiar to the Texas governor and on efforts to create jobs, perhaps the strongest part of his résumé.

And with that, he could move past reviews panning his performance in debates, including the most recent one in New Hampshire on Tuesday, and controversies that have cost him his lead in national polls as businessman Herman Cain has surged.

"Getting the energy industry back to work is the quickest way to spark 1.2 million good, well-paid American jobs, and at the same time reduce our dependence on energy from nations that are all too often hostile to the United States," Perry said in a telephone interview Thursday with USA TODAY previewing the speech at a Pittsburgh steel mill.

He vowed to reverse many of the energy policies pursued by President Obama, saying "the radical environmental movement" had been "sitting in the front of the train, being the engineer" during Obama's tenure.

The plan is sure to draw fire from environmental activists. "This proposal is Bush and Cheney gone wild," says Daniel Weiss of the left-leaning Center for American Progress, a reference to the industry-friendly policies of then-president George W. Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney.

As president, Perry says he would move to:

• Open federal lands to more energy exploration and production, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and lands in the Mountain West. More offshore drilling would be permitted in the Gulf of Mexico and off the southern Atlantic coast.

But he would continue to bar drilling in the Florida Everglades, a fragile ecological area located in what happens to be a key primary and general-election state.

• Approve pipelines to facilitate new energy fields, including the Keystone XL Pipeline. The controversial project, which would carry crude oil from Canada to refineries as far south as Texas, is now stalled in a State Department review.

• Suspend and reconsider many of the Environmental Protection Agency's recent mandates and regulations, including rules designed to improve air quality. He would repeal the EPA's authority over CO2 and other greenhouse gases linked to climate change.

• Curb the ability of environmentalists and others to slow down projects through the courts. He would establish firm litigation deadlines to expedite lawsuits and consider establishing special federal environmental courts with expertise that presumably would allow them to reach decisions more quickly.

• End the practice of federal agencies reaching consent decrees with advocacy groups, forcing them to pursue lawsuits instead.

• Phase out subsidies and tax incentives that benefit specific kinds of energy. Some favor the oil and gas industry; others were devised to encourage development of such renewable energy sources as wind power. He would retain a research and development tax credit available to all types of energy producers.

"It's leveling the playing field," Perry said. States would be free to encourage particular forms of alternative energy themselves, he said, as he did with a wind energy program in Texas.

He called the energy speech "phase one" of detailing his policy proposals, to be followed by the end of the month by a plan on taxes and federal spending.

"Eight weeks now and the fundraising side of it was exceptional," he said, saying his campaign was "on track." He reported raising $17 million by Sept. 30. "Americans are now starting to really look at the substance, … and at the end of the day I'm confident they'll make the right decision. They'll want a president who can put America back to work."