BEALLSVILLE, Ohio — Mitt Romney today stood in front of eastern Ohioans seemingly straight out of the mine — hard hats, smudged faces, and blue and gray uniforms — as he accused President Obama of “waging war” on coal.
"He’s for all the sources of energy that come from above the ground, none of the sources below the ground, like oil and coal and gas,” the presumptive Republican nominee told a crowd outside American Energy Corp’s Century Mine near Beallsville, Belmont County.
"I’m for all of the above, whether it comes from above the ground or below the ground,” he said. “We’re going to take advantage of our energy resources to save your jobs, create more jobs, and, by the way, when we use our plentiful energy resources, our inexpensive carbon-based resources, you’re going to see manufacturing come back to America…,” he said.
“By the end of my second term — hopefully, I get that first and second term — we will have North American energy independence,” he said. “We won’t have to buy oil from Venezuala of the the Middle East.”
The president's campaign refuted Mr. Romney's comments about coal today.
“Only one candidate in this race actually has a record of finding a clean future for coal, and that’s President Obama,'' said Obama spokesman Lis Smith. "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.
"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.”
On the outskirts of Beallsville, there’s no doubt that coal is king. Signs dot the rural roads: “Stop the war on coal. Fire Obama.” There were plenty of other hardhats in the crowd as they were bused in from another location.
The stop was to be Mr. Romney’s first of three across eastern and southern Ohio today. Following a stop at Tom’s Ice Cream Bowl in Zanesville, he was headed for a rally at Ohio’s original capital of Chillicothe at a Ross County Courthouse rally.
He didn’t mention his new running mate, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, until near the end of his nearly 20-minute speech and then it was a passing reference. Mr. Ryan is expected at Miami University in Oxford on Wednesday.
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The mining industry has a love-hate relationship with southeast Ohio, balancing thousands of jobs against environmental concerns. A subsidiary of Murray Energy, the largest private coal company in the United States, recently pleaded guilty and faces millions in penalties for a nearby pipeline rupture that polluted Captina Creek.
Another subsidiary in nearby Brilliant has blamed federal regulation for its plans to close.
Mr. Romney told the crowd that the Democratic must win Ohio to win re-election.
“To win Ohio, he’s got to win eastern Ohio, and he’s got to get the votes of the people in these communities all around us here, and you’re not going to let that happen, because you’re going to keep our jobs,” he said. “You’re going to keep Ohio strong and bring back America.”
He targeted his message directly toward his audience.
“We’ve 250 years left of coal,” he said. ‘’Why in the world wouldn’t we use it?”
Southeast Ohio is also the focus of a burgeoning shale natural gas and oil industry built around hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the practice of using chemically treated fluids at high pressure to fracture shale to release the gas and oil within.
On the campaign trail, Mr. Obama talks little about coal beyond mentioning use of cleaner coal as part of an all-of-the-above approach to the country’s energy needs. Coal-produced power represents about 80 percent of the electricity produced in Ohio.
“(Mr. Obama) says he’s for coal, but the regulation he’s putting on coal is making it basically impossible for us to mine the coal,” said Shawn Schoolcraft, of St. Clairsville, who has worked for two years as a roof-bolter at the deep mine Mr. Romney visited today.
“Underground, they don’t want us to have so much dust … and with EPA with the power plants, they’re killing so many megawatts that our plants just can’t run as clean as they want them to run,” he said.