In remarks at a Pittsburgh-area steel plant, Governor Perry sketched a vision of a nation where more than 1 million additional workers can be busy drilling for oil and gas, mining for coal, and finding new offshore resources.
"Right here in Pennsylvania, and across the state line in West Virginia and Ohio, we will tap the full potential of the Marcellus Shale and create another 250,000 jobs," he said in unveiling a major piece of his overall economic plan.
In short, his point is that the nation's job climate wouldn't be so bleak if the rest of the nation takes a cue from his own home state. And he pledged that if elected president, he would lead the charge with efforts to clear regulatory hurdles out of the way.
"We have the resources we need to fuel our cars, our homes, and our power plants," Perry said. "They can be found in ... Oklahoma, North Dakota, New Mexico, Alabama, Kentucky, throughout the American West, and, of course, Alaska."
He didn't tout energy development as the only solution needed for an economy where some 14 million workers are now unemployed. But he suggested that 1.2 million jobs could come from such efforts, while also making the nation more secure from dependence on foreign oil.
Perry is putting forth his proposal, which he named "Energizing American Jobs and Security," at a time his campaign needs a boost. In recent weeks he has been outflanked by the rise of Herman Cain, whose "9-9-9" plan for tax reform has found broad appeal. And Perry has hurt his own candidacy with weak performances in TV debates.
A risk is that his emphasis on energy will seem narrow-bore and predictable (any surprise that a Texas governor likes domestic oil production?). Perry made a point of noting that he has other pieces of his economic plan on the way, including proposals for a tax-code overhaul, entitlement reform, and taming federal deficits. And by going into detail on energy, Perry arguably can show supporters that he's prepared to lead in a new direction on an important national issue.
He sought to draw a clear contrast with President Obama.
"His energy policies are driven by the concerns of activists in his party, my policies are driven by the concerns of American workers without jobs," Perry said.
He said the Obama administration has opposed fossil fuel development at home, while encouraging countries like Brazil to drill offshore and sell it to American consumers. "The American economy should not be beaten into the ground when greater energy independence and lower energy costs lie right under American soil," he said.
Is Perry right that energy is a ripe field for job creation?
Not all economists would put domestic energy production among their top five priorities for job growth. But many do see significant potential in this field, as the Perry campaign does.
For example, economist Peter Morici at the University of Maryland, in a recent analysis of the nation's employment crisis, wrote that "shutting down US oil and gas development is costing the US economy millions of jobs."
His view: An emphasis on domestic production could create jobs by dramatically reducing America's trade deficit, thus recycling more consumer dollars in the domestic economy. Promotion of energy production would also spill over into job creation in other industries, Mr. Morici says, as a need for refineries and pipelines boosts demand for construction workers, steel, and heavy machinery.
Even in Texas, the industries classified by the US Labor Department as "oil and gas extraction" and "mining support" account for just about 2 of every 100 jobs. But jobs in basic industries like mining or manufacturing typically help sustain many other jobs throughout a local economy. And over the past decade, Texas has seen energy jobs rise as a share of its economy.
Compared with Texas, other states appear to have plenty of room to grow. In the other 49 states collectively, the "oil and gas" and "mining support" industries account for less than 0.3 percent of all jobs. Those totals don't include some other energy-related jobs, such as in coal mining or renewable sources.
Obama, for his part, has called for some expansion of domestic fossil-fuel production, but has put his greatest emphasis on encouraging renewable sources of energy. Where the words "conservation" and "efficiency" appear nowhere in Perry's speech, Obama has backed programs to encourage energy-saving retrofits of
buildings and a shift toward higher-mileage vehicles.
If America did seek a Perry-style fossil-fuel renaissance, controversial questions of environmental regulation would quickly come to the surface.
Perry's speech Friday embodied one long American tradition, a focus on tapping the abundant resources with which the land is blessed. But his approach might run headlong into a parallel tradition of environmental protection.
He blasted the Interior Department for halting offshore oil exploration off the Virginia coast. He said 175,000 jobs could be created by the controversial move of opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other parts of Alaska to exploration. And he called for a radical down-scaling of the Environmental Protection Agency's mission, turning many of its duties back to the states.
"The EPA’s war on American fossil fuel production comes despite the fact they can’t point to a single incident of unsafe hydraulic fracturing [to mine] natural gas," Perry said at one point in the speech.
Citing the large presence of wind energy in Texas, Perry said he sees an important role for green energy sources. But he called for an end to subsidies for "any and all" segments of the energy industry, including a phaseout of tax credits for energy producers.
Perry said he would continue federal tax incentives for energy research and development.