WEST MIFFLIN, Pa. — Texas Gov. Rick Perry laid out a plan that he said would increase domestic energy production and create jobs in a speech Friday that is the start of an attempt to reboot his struggling presidential campaign.
His proposals on energy, which broke little new ground, reflected the Republican view that increased domestic production of natural gas and oil is necessary to revive the U.S. economy and that the Obama administration is limiting drilling and exploration because they are too tied to environmental groups.
Perry, like many Republicans, called for increased oil drilling off the Atlantic Coast, around Alaska and on federal land in Western states. He urged the end of the ban on drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Perry said that as president he would severely curtail the Environmental Protection Agency’s role in setting emissions standards for businesses, arguing that the rules often hurt the economy, a claim Democrats dispute. He said he would oppose tax credits and benefits that favor specific kinds of energy, a rebuke of the administration push to incentivize wind power and other alternative energy sources.
He said these moves would create American jobs and reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.
“America needs jobs, America needs energy, America needs a made-in-America energy revolution, and I’ve got that longtime track record of experience and success in this critical area,” Perry said in a major speech at a U.S. Steel plant in this Pittsburgh suburb.
The governor added, “My plan would make us more secure by tapping America’s true energy potential.”
The speech is part of the next phase of the candidacy of Perry, who quickly vaulted to the top of opinion polls when he entered the race in August but has fallen after a series of lackluster debate performances. After spending much of his first two months as a candidate raising money, he is shifting to offer more details on his policy views.
The governor will give an address about job creation this month in South Carolina, his aides said.
On energy, it’s not clear how viable Perry’s ideas are. Most Democrats and some Republicans in Congress have for years blocked the expansion of drilling in the Alaskan refuge for environmental reasons.
“The Perry energy plan is the Bush-Cheney big-oil plan gone wild,” said Daniel Weiss of the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress, a think tank in Washington. “It would allow oil companies to drill in some of our most precious places protected for our children, while creating few jobs but yielding significant smog, acid rain, mercury and other pollution.”
Despite Perry’s attack on the Obama administration for slowing drilling after last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill, drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is now nearly back to pre-spill levels.
Perry predicted his energy plan would create more than 1 million new jobs. Weiss sharply disagrees.
Politically, the speech was designed to remind Republicans of the jobs that have been created in Texas under Perry’s leadership and to show his expertise on a major issue after the debate performances caused party activists to question Perry’s experience and conservatism.
Perry has acknowledged his weakness in candidate forums, telling reporters this week that “debates are not my strong suit.” But his advisers are playing down the importance of the sessions ahead of the next one, on Tuesday in Las Vegas.
“We have staff in key primary states, we have a message, we are going to use all of our resources to run a credible campaign toward winning the primary, and the debates are a fraction of what it takes to get elected,” said Mark Miner, a Perry campaign spokesman.
Referring to the front-runner in the GOP nomination contest, Miner added: “There is a still a lot of distrust of Mitt Romney from Republican primary voters.”
Perry supporters privately acknowledge that the debate performances have worried them. But they argue that the rise of businessman Herman Cain in polls is the latest illustration that many Republicans are looking for an alternative to Romney. And they say that ultimately Perry will emerge because the $15 million he has left in campaign funds (he raised $17 million in the third quarter) will allow him to wage the kind of campaign that Cain and other would-be challengers to Romney cannot.
But this week, Romney announced a healthy fundraising performance for the third quarter, raising $14.2 million. Earlier in the week, President Obama said he raised $43 million over the same time period, far outpacing his GOP rivals.
Staff writer Steven Mufson contributed to this report.
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