In coal-rich Ohio, Santorum adjusts message to focus on energy

Chris Moody

CHILLICOTHE, Ohio-- "You want a free hat?" a man clutching a bag of white baseball caps that read "Coal = Jobs" asked as Rick Santorum supporters shuffled into a school gymnasium where the candidate was speaking Friday. Given the remarks Santorum was about to deliver, the accessory was fitting.

Santorum spent much of his 50-minute address on jobs, particularly  in the energy industry. Ohio ranks third in the country in coal consumption behind Texas and Indiana and is also one of the largest suppliers in the country. While Santorum traditionally mixes his speeches with a message of both economic and social topics, his address in southern Ohio leaned heavily toward the former. "There's no more important issue than to get this economy going," he said.

Santorum, who often mentions on the campaign trail that his grandfather was a coal-miner, leveled a range of criticism against President Barack Obama in his wide-ranging speech, but reserved his strongest denunciations for his handling of energy.

"We have a president who has said, that stuff in the ground, coal, gas, oil, it's a liability. It's something that does harm. His Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule that carbon dioxide was a pollutant. C02 is a pollutant. Tell that to a plant," Santorum said.

The message was especially relevant given that it was announced this week that seven coal-powered energy power plants would close in Ohio and Pennsylvania starting next year. In his remarks, Santorum vowed that his administration would lift federal restrictions on oil, natural gas, hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") and coal production, saying that concerns over increasing energy production were being "used as an opportunity for environmentalists to scare folks and make money."

"It's not just the regulations that are getting passed," he said. "It's the saber rattling that they do against anybody who wants to produce in America."

Santorum plans to spend most of his time in Ohio before Tuesday, when ten states will hold electoral contests. Public opinion surveys show Santorum in the lead in Ohio, though a Quinnipiac University poll released Friday found him ahead of Romney 35-31 percent, which was within the poll's margin of error.

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