BEALLSVILLE, Ohio -- Visiting Appalachian coal country on Tuesday, Mitt Romney accused President Obama of “waging a war on coal,” and pledged to pursue all forms of domestic energy so the nation would no longer be dependent on sources outside of North America.
“We have 250 years of coal, why in the heck wouldn’t we use it?” Romney said, speaking in front of hard-hat-wearing miners who roared in approval. “We’re going to take advantage of our energy resources to save your jobs, to create more jobs.”
Romney spoke in the parking lot of the American Energy Corp. in eastern Ohio, in a verdant valley dotted with coal mines. Ohio is a critical battleground state that Obama won in 2012 but that Romney hopes to retake. His appearance here was not only an appeal to voters whose families have worked in the industry for generations, but to working-class voters who supported Obama four years ago and are frustrated by his tenure.
“Your success and your hard work helps you and your families but it also helps America. I salute you,” he said. “I appreciate the work you’re doing, and if I’m president of the United States I will do everything in my power to make sure you keep good jobs and good wages.”
But much of the event was devoted to energy policy, an issue in which some of Obama’s stances have caused displeasure in the region, evident in signs nearby that said, “Save Eastern Ohio. Fire Obama,” and GOP Senate candidate Josh Mandel’s remarks to the crowd.
Mandel said that liberals, Obama and other Democrats “think coal is a four-letter word. I tell you this afternoon, for any of these folks trying to stand between us and affordable, reliable energy, we have four words for them: ‘Over our dead bodies!’”
But the situation is complicated – Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have made controversial statements about coal production, and coal companies frequently cite mandates coming from their administration as the cause of layoffs or other hardship. But employment in the coal industry has grown under Obama, by 10% in Ohio. And as governor of Massachusetts, Romney cracked down on polluting coal plants, and was poised to take part in a regional cap-and-trade system, but withdrew about the time he decided to run for president in the 2008 campaign.
“President Obama has increased investments in the research and development of clean-coal technology, and employment in the mining industry hit a 15-year high in 2011,” said Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith. “This stands in stark contrast to Mitt Romney, who, as governor of Massachusetts, spoke out against coal jobs and said that a coal-fired plant ‘kills people.’ This is just another issue where Mitt Romney is not being honest with the American people.”
[For the record, 6:35 p.m. Aug. 14: An earlier version of this post attributed Josh Mandel’s remarks to Mitt Romney.]