BELMONT, OhioCampaigning in the heart of coal country Saturday, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan made a direct play for the voters in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio whose livelihoods depend on energy production by charging that President Obama is waging a "war on coal."
"Over a hundred coal plants are scheduled to close costing us thousands of jobs. Just a month ago we lost 1,200 coal jobs in states like Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia," Ryan said during an airport rally in Moon Township, Pa., near Pittsburgh. "Not only are these policies wrong, not only do these policies cost us jobs, not only do they mean that American energy dollars go to the Middle East... they are keeping us from having jobs, they are keeping us from making our pay checks stretch farther." Ryan made the same points an hour's drive away in the eastern Ohio town of Belmont, and urged voters to cast their ballots early.
Ryan and Republican nominee Mitt Romney have made energy central in their quest to win over blue-collar voters in the Appalachian region, holding events in cities along the Ohio-Pennsylvania border such as Youngstown, Beallsville and Belmont. Ryan has now held two events in Western Pennsylvania -- he visited Carnegie on August 21 - even though the state is largely viewed as leaning toward Obama.
Ryan also targeted gas prices and domestic oil and gas production during his campaign stops. "Look, gas prices are more than double what they were four years ago. Who knows what they're going to be if he got four more years?" he said.
"He'll dust off his national energy tax which is designed to raise the price and tax on all of our energy. He'll keep making it harder for us to drill for oil and gas on federal lands. Or making it harder for us to get our offshore energy in places like Virginia where we want it, where we need it, where we can get it, where we can put people back to work and lower our energy prices," Ryan said.
Fact-checkers say gas prices have doubled since Obama took office, but not because of his policies. They say gas prices were artificially low at the start of his term due to the deep recession and depressed demand.
Oil and gas production on federal lands was down 14 percent in 2011, as Romney has claimed before, though there has been a small net increase over the past five years. The Obama campaign said Saturday that employment in coal mining hit a 15-year high in 2011 and Obama is making "historic investments" in clean coal research and development. Coal employment was higher last year than when Obama took office, but coal production dipped in 2009 and remains lower than when he became president.
Romney has a complicated history with coal, and coal pollution that authorities say can cause or aggravate asthma. Though he has embraced coal during his presidential bid, as Massachusetts governor Romney was tough on a coal plant that was rated one of the state's "Filthy Five" polluters. "I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people, and that plant -- that plant kills people," he said of the coal-fired Salem Harbor Power Station near Boston.
Obama was quick to trot out the statement at the Oct. 16 presidential debate at Hofstra University as the two candidates tangled over energy. He also highlighted it at a Fairfax, Va. eally Friday in charging that his opponent suffers from "Romnesia" - a condition he described as forgetting one's past positions. "If you say that you're a champion of the coal industry when while you were governor you stood in front of a coal plant and said 'this plant will kill you,' that's some Romnesia," Obama said.