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Romney goes on offensive on coal in Ohio

Cardinal Plant, a coal-fired power station near Brilliant, Ohio. CBS News/Brian Montopoli

(CBS News) Mitt Romney today will attack President Obama over what Republicans have cast as his "war on coal," arguing, in the words of a campaign spokesman, that the president's "disastrous energy policies" have meant fewer jobs and higher energy costs.

Romney is set to appear outside a coal mine in the Eastern Ohio town of Beallsville, an Appalachian town where coal has long provided an economic lifeline to residents. He plans to argue that, pandering to environmentalists, Mr. Obama has put in place unnecessary regulations that have cost coal jobs. The argument is central to the GOP's attempt to win the crucial swing state.

Last month, traveled to Steubenville, Ohio - an hour north of Beallsville - to examine the Republican argument. Ohio Republicans say Environmental Protection Agency regulations mandating reduced mercury and other emissions are largely responsible for the closure of six coal-burning power plants in the state. They also note a January 2008 comment by the president that building a coal plant will bankrupt the builder because "they are going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that's being emitted." Democrats, citing Mine Safety and Health Administration figures, note in response that coal jobs in Ohio are up 10 percent under Mr. Obama.

There is a clear difference between Romney and Mr. Obama on the issue, though Romney's record has changed over the years. Romney now opposes strong regulation of the coal industry and argues that carbon emissions should not be subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act. As Massachusetts governor, however, he lauded carbon emission limits and at one point stood outside a coal plant and said, "I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people, and that plant, that plant kills people." He also backed a regional cap-and-trade system, which would reduce carbon pollution by imposing caps on emissions and allowing companies to buy and sell pollution permits, before backing off of that position.

Mr. Obama's administration has approved regulations to reduce mercury and other pollutants by 90 percent, which require plant owners who do not already comply to install mechanisms to limit the pollution. The regulation largely affects older plants and appears to have prompted owners of such plants for moving up their timetable for closing those plants down. The president has notably declined to issue rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions for power plants and abandoned efforts to pass federal "cap-and-trade" legislation.

The regulations, the administration says, "will protect millions of families and children from harmful and costly air pollution and provide the American people with health benefits that far outweigh the costs of compliance." The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the regulations, which will cost an estimated $9.6 billion, will prevent up to 11,000 early deaths each year and save billions in health care costs.

The Romney offensive on coal in Ohio comes as the Obama campaign goes after Romney on wind in Iowa. The Obama campaign has spotlighted Romney's opposition to a wind tax credit tied to 7,000 jobs in the state and championed by Iowa Republicans.

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