(Jeff Swensen, Getty Images )
Reporting from West Mifflin, Pa. — Seeking to rescue his faltering Republican presidential campaign, Texas Gov. Rick Perry unveiled a jobs program Friday that relies heavily on new oil and gas production and on dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency.
The plan is not likely to draw much fire from his GOP opponents, who almost universally call for sharply scaled-back environmental regulation. At the same time, it seems unlikely that it will help break Perry out of the pack, because the plan makes a relatively modest promise of creating 1.2 million jobs by 2020 and depends on one sector of the economy strongly linked to Texas.
He announced his energy-themed initiative — the first policy speech of his campaign — at a steel plant in western Pennsylvania's Monongahela Valley after a round of appearances on morning talk shows.
To applause from several hundred workers in hard hats at a U.S. Steel plant that makes products for natural gas pipelines, Perry said that if he became president, the country would not be "held hostage by foreign oil and federal bureaucrats." The governor said he would "kick-start the economic growth of this country" by telling environmental regulators to "stand down."
Perry's campaign said the plan drew on a study endorsed by the American Petroleum Institute, among other sources.
In his first significant interviews of the campaign, Perry appeared on five network TV morning shows, where he was closely questioned about what had contributed to his steep drop in national polls. When he joined the race in August, the governor jumped to a double-digit lead, but he is now a distant third, trailing businessman Herman Cain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
He predicted that Cain, whose sudden rise has come at Perry's expense, would fade as a factor "when people try to make a decision about who do you really want running America — somebody that really knows how to create jobs, not somebody that's got a catchy slogan." He was referring to Cain's "9-9-9" plan to reduce corporate and individual income tax rates to 9% and impose a 9% national sales tax.
While saying candidates' families always feel the heat of campaigns more than the candidates, Perry told ABC he agreed with his wife, Anita, who said Thursday that he had been "brutalized" by fellow Republicans because of his Christian faith. He also refused to disavow a prominent supporter, Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress, who described Mormonism — the faith of two of Perry's GOP rivals — as a cult.
Perry has said he doesn't regard Mormonism as a cult. Nevertheless, he said, Jeffress was entitled to freedom of speech. "I'm not going to spend my time defending everything that is said by someone who endorses me," Perry said.
In unveiling the first plank of his economic platform, Perry joined other GOP candidates in targeting the EPA. A skeptic about climate-change science, he said the antipollution fight should be left largely to individual states.
Portions of Perry's agenda could be imposed by executive order, including suspension of new clean air regulations being implemented by the Obama administration, according to a fact sheet issued by his campaign. Federal lands, including some national parks, would be opened to greater energy exploration. Yosemite, Yellowstone and Everglades national parks, among others, would be exempt.
Congressional action would be needed for other proposals, such as sharply reducing the EPA's enforcement power, speeding up regulatory and legal reviews and ending federal subsidies for energy production. Perry wants to phase out oil industry tax breaks, a position similar to one in Obama's latest jobs package.
Perry called for opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain for development, adding his voice to a long-running debate that illustrates some of the political and legal forces that often complicate or block efforts to increase domestic energy production.