OSKALOOSA, Iowa – President Obama and Mitt Romney traded blows over energy policy in separate campaign appearances Tuesday, as the campaigns settled into a new phase of trying to gain the upper hand on key issues.
With the initial skirmishes over Romney’s selection of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan complete, the two campaigns proceeded to separately planned policy addresses on how they would approach the need to expand U.S. energy production.
On day two of a three day campaign swing through Iowa, President Obama cast his energy policy as an approach that finds new homegrown sources to replace imported oil and creates jobs in the industry.
Romney and Ryan, in respective appearances in Ohio and Colorado, hammered Obama for imposing new regulations they say have made business more difficult for traditional energy sources and have favoring elusive alternative energies over below-ground sources like coal that have been a critical part of the American economy for generations.
Across an Iowa landscape where wind turbines are nearly as common as corn fields, Obama pushed Congress to extend tax credits for the wind energy industry, a tax break that has faced Republican opposition.
In Iowa alone, the industry employs more than 7,000, according to the Obama campaign; across the country the number is 75,000. Obama has said that 37,000 jobs nationally would be at risk if the wind tax credit is not extended.
“He’s said new sources of energy like these are ‘imaginary.’ His running mate calls them a ‘fad,’” Obama said. “During a speech a few months ago, Governor Romney even explained his energy policy this way: ‘You can’t drive a car with a windmill on it.’ That’s what he said about wind power. ‘You can’t drive a car with a windmill on it.’ I wonder if he actually tried that. That’s something I would have liked to see.”
Then, Obama offered a biting crack at Romney: “I don’t know if he’s actually tried that,” he said, of driving a car with a windmill on it. “I know he’s had other things on his car.”
It was a rare reference from Obama to an incident in which Romney drove from Massachusetts to Canada in 1993 with the family dog in a carrier on the roof of the car.
Obama spoke at an outdoor event at the Nelson Pioneer Farm and Museum in Oskaloosa in front of a subdued crowd of about 850. It was a picture-perfect summer day, with whispy clouds overhead and soybean and corn fields sprawling behind the president as he repeated his demand that Congress renew the wind-energy tax credit.
Romney has been critical of the Obama administration’s policies toward alternative energy sources, particularly a half-billion-dollar loan to solar-panel maker Solyndra, which subsequently collapsed. Romney and other Republicans have accused the administration of favoring Solyndra because its largest investors were funds linked to Oklahoma billionaire George Kaiser, an Obama donor.
The so-called Production Tax Credit, which is set to expire at the end of this year, provides tax credits to producers of wind power according to how many megawatts they produce. According to the Obama administration, the tax credit works in concert with the Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit to provide a 30 percent investment credit to manufacturers who invest in equipment for clean energy projects in the United States.
Obama took credit Tuesday for an explosion in wind energy production. Although it is still a small fraction of the energy industry, wind represents nearly one-third of all new energy capacity added in last year.
The president also made an unscheduled stop in Haverhill, Iowa, to tour the Heil Family Farm, part of a cooperative of six other landowners that operate 52 wind turbines on 20,000 acres of land. The cooperative produces 120 megawatts of wind energy, which by the Heil family’s estimate powers about 30,000 Iowa homes. The windmills were visible for miles around as the president’s motorcade pulled up for the visit.
Meanwhile, Romney traveled into the heart of coal country in Beallsville, Ohio to sharply accuse the president of trying to destroy the coal industry in favor of wind and solar energy.
Surrounded by a sea of coal miners, Romney charged that Obama would bankrupt coal plants. He fired up the crowd of hundreds by drawing attention to something Vice President Biden said in 2007.
“His vice president said coal is more dangerous than terrorists,” Romney said. “Can you imagine that? This tells you precisely what he actually feels and what he’s done, and his policies over the last three and a half years have put in place the very vision he had when he was running for office.”
Romney also took issue with an advertisement the Obama campaign is running in Ohio that he said makes him “just scratch my head.”
“He talks about how wonderful it is and how we’re adding jobs to the coal industry and we’re producing more coal, and I thought, you know, how in the world can you go out there and just tell people things that aren’t true?” Romney said. “This is a time for truth. If you don’t believe in coal, if you don’t believe in energy independence for America, then say it.”
In Colorado, Ryan joined the battle, arguing that the president “has done all that he can to make it harder for us to use our own energy.”
Only Vice President Biden delivered campaign remarks that did not revolve around the energy issue. Instead he slammed Romney and Ryan in a speech in Danville, Va. for the impact spending reductions–combined with tax cuts–that the two have advocated could have for the middle class.
Biden drew immediate fire from Republicans for telling the crowd at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research that the GOP would deregulate banks, letting Wall Street “put y’all back in chains.”
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul immediately seized on the line, with its vague slavery allusion, as a sign the Obama campaign will “will say and do anything to win this election.”
Philip Rucker in Beallsville, Ohio and Felicia Sonmez in Lakewood, Co. contributed to this report.