Can the United States, where gas prices rise and fall at the slightest sign of distress in Middle East oil-producing countries, ever be energy independent?
The majority of Americans probably hope so and according to Gov. Mitt Romney, his Plan For a Stronger Middle Class can make it happen by 2020, if he can only defeat President Barack Obama and his "anti-energy policies" come November.
Romney is expected to formally unveil the energy independence portion of his Plan for a Stronger Middle Class at a campaign stop at Watson Truck & Supply in Hobbs, N.M., Thursday.
"This is a high priority issue for American voters, and we'll be talking about it on the campaign trail and at the convention as well," Ed Gillespie, senior adviser to Romney, told reporters on a conference call Wednesday evening. "The challenge in getting there (achieving energy independence) is not about the resources we have. It's not about the technology. It's about the government we have."
Gillespie and his colleague Oren Cass, domestic policy director for the Romney campaign, outlined the stark differences between Romney and Obama's approaches to energy policy, accusing the Obama administration of stifling the development of the nation's energy supplies at the expense of American jobs and household budgets.
"There's incredible potential for the development of nation's energy sources," Cass said, underscoring that Romney's plan for energy independence is projected to create more than 3 million jobs, including 1 million manufacturing jobs. "We no longer have to rely on supply from less stable regions in the world."
One of the highlights of the Romney plan is allowing states to decide how to handle oil, natural gas, and coal extraction on federal lands within their borders. Contrary to the thriving development of energy sources on private lands such as those in oil-rich North Dakota, critics of Obama argue development of natural resource-rich federal lands has ground to a near-halt under his watch, with the availability and development of those lands falling 20 and 37 percent respectively, according to the Romney clan.
But it's not just the development of fossil fuel resources the Romney campaign thinks states can manage better.
"From oil and gas and coal to wind and solar and biofuels, states are far better able to develop, adopt, and enforce regulations based on their unique resources, geology, and local concerns," the white paper said.
Another key part of Romney's plan is expanding offshore drilling on the east coast, putting in place the "most aggressive leasing plan ever put forward," his advisers said, adding that with more exploration—another element of Romney's energy plan—even more resources ready to be tapped could be discovered off the eastern seaboard. Part of those plans includes restarting projects halted by the Obama administration in Virginia and investigating opportunities in the Carolinas.
Romney also plans to strengthen ties with America's neighbor to the north, who might still have a bad taste in its mouth after plans to extend the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada into the United States were vetoed by Obama.
According to Romney advisers, Canada has been forced to seek customers for its plentiful oil hauls elsewhere, including China, a nation with which America has a chilly, volatile relationship at best.
"Canada feels they need to go out and find other partners," Cass said.
But perhaps the widest chasm between the two presidential contenders' philosophy on energy is how to support new and alternative energy technologies. Deflecting arguments that Romney's stance on letting the wind energy tax credit expire could hurt him in the important state of Iowa where wind turbines are plentiful, advisers countered saying that Romney supports the government funding research into those kinds of technologies but not propping up the industry itself with tax breaks and lavish loan guarantees.
"Government funding for research [is a] very appropriate role and something [Romney] would want to continue to pursuing," Cass said. "But the president's emphasis on loan guarantees and subsidies has yielded very disappointing results in those areas."
The benefits of Romney's plans to unleash development of America's energy resources and cutting through the red tape of current energy policies are numerous his campaign claims, including millions of jobs and billions of revenue flowing into the Treasury's coffers.
The Obama campaign responded pointing out that Romney's plan, a large part of which centers on increasing domestic oil production, is being announced just days after a CEO of a major oil company hosted a fundraiser for the former governor.
"Romney is expected to defend billions in oil subsidies while opposing efforts to use oil more efficiently and develop homegrown alternative energy," said former Clinton Energy Secretary and a national co-chair of the Obama campaign Federico Pena, in a statement Wednesday. "We will never reach energy independence by turning our backs on homegrown renewable energy and better auto mileage."
Meg Handley is a reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can reach her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter.
UPDATED 8/22/12, 2:55 p.m.: This story has been updated to identify Federico Pena as a co-chair of the Obama campaign.