Obama, Romney campaigns intensify battle over support for coal industry

The Obama campaign on Friday accused GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney of flip-flopping on his support for the coal industry to score political points.

The campaign referred to Romney’s 2003 comments that, as Massachusetts governor, he would not “protect jobs that kill people.”

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“The fact is, before Romney was for coal, he was vehemently against it,” former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D) said in a media call. “Mitt Romney is no friend of coal.”

The campaign said Romney misrepresented Obama’s coal record during Wednesday’s presidential debate, saying that Virginia and Ohio experienced jobs gains in that industry since Obama took office.

“We do have a strong history of storytelling and folklore in Virginia, but we don’t look for that in our presidential races,” former Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.) said.

Romney, meanwhile, criticized Obama for slamming the coal industry in his 2008 campaign. Speaking in Abingdon, Va., on Friday, Romney blasted Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules that Republicans say target the coal industry.

“When the president was running for office, he said that if you built a new coal-fired power plant, why, you’d go bankrupt,” Romney said. “Well, I don’t believe in putting our coal under the ground forever. I believe we should take advantage of it, put American workers back to work so we can use a resource that’s abundant, and cheap and can be burned in a clean way.”

Romney and Republicans have said EPA rules rolled out during Obama’s term explain the coal industry’s recent struggles. They say those rules show the president is not serious about including coal in his energy policy.

Strickland said Romney and Republicans have ignored the effect low natural gas prices have had on coal’s position in the marketplace, undercutting demand.

“That’s an economic issue, not a political issue,” Strickland said.

He also said the coal industry would benefit from Obama’s investments in technology that captures greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal and stores them underground.

While Obama spent $3 billion of stimulus funds on that technology, Strickland said Romney would cut that funding.

“Romney, to my knowledge, has no real plan for how to continue to see the use of coal that is almost inevitable in the short term without just continuing to do what we’re already doing,” Strickland said.