Obama Campaign Inches Closer to Asserting that Coal Does Not Kill People

by Ben Somberg

August 15, 2012

Last week, President Obama’s campaign earned green criticism for airing a radio ad in Ohio that portrayed the President as pro-coal, and Mitt Romney as anti-coal. The ad asserted that Obama has been good for the coal industry, and then said:

And Mitt Romney? He’s attacking the president’s record on coal. But here’s what Romney said in 2003, at a press conference in front of a coal plant: “I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people. And that plant, that plant kills people.” So when it comes to coal, ask yourself, who’s been honest and who’s playing politics?

The ad was certainly saying Romney’s 2003 quote was a bad thing, which understandably infuriated environmental groups. But the way the contrast is set up in the last sentence, there's sufficient wiggle room to argue that the ad didn’t quite say that Romney’s statement had been incorrect.

On Tuesday, the Obama campaign inched a bit further down that path with a slightly more declarative statement. From Politico this morning, on the back-and-forth between the campaigns Tuesday:

“Only one candidate in this race actually has a record of finding a clean future for coal, and that’s President Obama,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement. She added: “This stands in stark contrast to Mitt Romney, who, as governor of Massachusetts, spoke out against coal jobs and said that a coal-fired plant ‘kills people.’ This is just another issue where Mitt Romney is not being honest with the American people.”

Romney’s scientifically accurate statement from 2003 is now deemed “not being honest.”

Here are some actual facts: EPA estimates that the “Utility MACT” rule finalized last year, limiting a host of pollutants from coal plants, will prevent 4,200 to 11,000 premature deaths every year. President Obama’s campaign website rightly touts this accomplishment. So which way is it?

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