Obama Spars With Romney on Energy in Swing State Pitches

President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney put their differences on energy in stark relief with competing speeches from a center of wind power development and from coal country. At a rally today in Oskaloosa, Iowa, Obama criticized Romney for calling the benefits of alternative energy “imaginary” and his running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, for labeling wind power a “fad.”

Romney appeared at a coal mine in Beallsville, Ohio, where he promised to achieve energy independence for North America by the end of a second term and criticized Obama for regulations that he said were stifling coal production.

The two candidates were making their cases in swing states in an election campaign playing out against the backdrop of sluggish U.S. economic growth and an unemployment rate of 8.3 percent. The jobless rate has been stuck above 8 percent since Obama’s first full month in office.

Their running mates also were appealing for votes in battleground states, with Ryan speaking in Colorado and raising money in Nevada while Vice President Joe Biden campaigned in Virginia.

Wind Jobs

Obama in his speech cited the 75,000 U.S. jobs tied to the wind energy industry and contrasted his support for extending a wind energy manufacturing tax credit with Romney’s opposition.

If Romney “knew what you’ve been doing, he’d know that 20% of Iowa’s electricity now comes from wind, powering our homes and factories and our businesses,” Obama said.

Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said the Republican candidate supports wind power. Instead of Obama’s approach Romney would promote “policies that remove regulatory barriers, support free enterprise and market-based competition, and reward technological innovation,” Williams said in an e-mail.

Obama cracked a joke at Romney’s expense after noting that his rival in a March 5 speech said “you can’t drive a car with a windmill on it.”

“Now I don’t know if he’s actually tried that,” the president said. Making an indirect reference to Romney having once transported the family dog in a carrier strapped to the roof of a car, he added, “I know he’s had other things on his car.”

Iowa Power

Iowa, which Obama won in 2008 and where polls show this year’s race is up for grabs, has the second highest wind power capacity in the U.S. and the industry directly and indirectly supports 4,000 to 5,000 jobs there, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

The potential lapse of the tax credit at year’s end is already affecting the industry. Vestas Wind Systems A/S, the world’s largest supplier of turbines and blades, plans to cut 1,600 jobs at its factories in Colorado this year because the tax credit will expire Dec. 31 unless Congress acts to extend it.

Broadwind Energy Inc., a maker of steel towers for wind turbines based in Naperville, Illinois, is restructuring operations to shift away from the wind industry, said Chief Executive Officer Peter DuPrey.

“The over-dependence of the wind industry on economic incentives to grow and prosper is not a good thing, particularly in these times of a dysfunctional political leadership,” Duprey said on a second-quarter conference call last week.

Coal Country

Romney is traveling through Ohio’s coal country on the final day of his four-day bus tour of electoral battleground states. The former Massachusetts governor maintains that the Obama administration has burdened the mining industry and that has directly led to job cuts in Ohio.

Standing before dozens of hard hat-wearing coal miners and next to a backhoe piled with coal in Beallsville, Ohio, Romney said Obama’s policies have caused increases in energy prices and made it more difficult for the coal industry to be profitable.

He said an Obama campaign advertisement asserting that the president’s plans would create coal industry jobs was an attempt to dupe voters about his real goals.

“How in the world can you go out there and just tell people things that aren’t true?” Romney said at the American Energy Corp.’s Century Mine. “If you don’t believe in coal, if you don’t believe in energy independence for America, then say it.”

Ohio, which Obama won in 2008, is the 10th biggest coal-producing state in the U.S., accounting for 2.5 percent of output in 2010, according to the Energy Information Administration. The industry has 2,829 employees in underground and surface mines, a drop of six percent from 2009.

Energy Independence

Romney, in making his pledge of energy independence for the U.S. if he’s able to complete two White House terms, said that would free the country from reliance on Venezuela and the Middle East. Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Venezuela were the top four sources of U.S. crude oil imports in 2010, according to the EIA.

Ryan echoed Romney’s remarks at a rally in Colorado, a state rich in oil shale and natural gas.

“President Obama has done all he can to make it harder for us to use our own energy,” he told the cheering crowd in the Lakewood High School gym.

Ryan has long been critical of Obama’s clean energy agenda, offering proposals in Congress to expand oil and gas drilling, limit federal environmental regulations, and eliminating a clean energy loan program.

Domestic Supplies

Through increased oil and natural gas extraction and conservation, the U.S. has increased the proportion of demand met from domestic sources over the past six years to an estimated 81 percent through the first 10 months of 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Biden stirred a war of words between the campaigns with his remarks to a crowd in Danville, Virginia. To laughter and boos from his audience, Biden said Romney would “let the big banks once again write their own rules — unchain Wall Street. They’re going to put you all back in chains.”

That drew a quick reaction from Romney’s campaign.

“Whether it’s accusing Mitt Romney of being a felon, having been responsible for a woman’s tragic death or now wanting to put people in chains, there’s no question that because of the president’s failed record he’s been reduced to a desperate campaign based on division and demonization,” said Andrea Saul, a Romney spokeswoman said in a written statement.

Stephanie Cutter, deputy campaign manager for Obama, defended the vice president’s remarks, saying that Ryan and House Speaker John Boehner, both Republicans, “have called for the ‘unshackling’ of the private sector from regulations.”

Copyright 2012 Bloomberg

Lead image: Firefighting via Shutterstock

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