Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich told an assembly of electric cooperative leaders in Charleston Wednesday morning that companies ought to be allowed to drill for natural gas off the South Carolina coast.

Gingrich, the Clinton-era House Speaker who lead the Republican Revolution, also called for the Environmental Protection Agency to be replaced by a new Environmental Solutions Agency with more engineers and fewer career bureaucrats.

“In the first place, the mess that BP created in the Gulf had been approved by the government,” Gingrich said after his speech. He also called for the Coast Guard to have a disaster recovery program.

Gingrich had been invited to give his views on energy policy in a ballroom at Charleston Place Hotel. His comments on natural gas drilling were part of a plan to decrease dependence on foreign fossil fuels.

He praised electric cooperatives’ efforts to encourage customers to reinsulate their homes and thus save power and money, but he spoke disparagingly of EPA regulations that affect business practices. He did not mention any regulations specifically. As a replacement for the EPA, he proposed a new Environmental Solutions Agency that he said would “invest in a better future rather than imposing destructive restrictions.”

At a Charleston Tea Party meeting, where he spoke on Tuesday night, Gingrich had criticized Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for backing down against Democrats and President Obama to avoid an impending government shutdown. He spoke again about the debt-ceiling showdown Wednesday morning.

“Getting real change is a very hard, painful process,” he said. “For this country to successfully solve its problems, we are going to have to have some major, serious fights.”

Gingrich also called for no tax increases of any kind in 2013, a zero-percent capital gains tax to spur business and industrial growth, and a 12.5-percent corporate tax rate. He said lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 percent would mean more tax revenues from companies like General Electric, which is legendary for its team of tax experts and loophole-seekers.

“At 12.5 percent, it would be cheaper to fire the lawyers and pay a check to the federal government,” Gingrich said.

The speech included a commentary on his various cartoon portrayals in the “elite media,” from a recent New York Times caricature to ’90s magazine covers that likened him to Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch. “If you’re a good liberal, you get the smiling face, and if you’re a good conservative, you get the scrunched-up face,” he said.

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