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Romney criticism of 'green' jobs not without its risks

Aug 16, 2012 - By Nicholas Riccardi, The Associated Press

DENVER -- Mitt Romney's presidential campaign has been savaging what it calls President Barack Obama's "unhealthy" obsession with "green jobs." The Republican challenger criticizes the government program that propped up solar manufacturer Solyndra, and he mocks Obama's vision of a boom in employment, citing a European study to argue that new solar or wind-energy positions would destroy jobs elsewhere.

But when a campaign spokesman said recently that Congress should let a tax break for wind energy producers expire at the end of the year, some Republicans were concerned the candidate had gone too far.

Republican Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, noting that nearly 7,000 Iowans work in the wind industry, assailed the Romney campaign for "a lack of full understanding of how important the wind energy tax credit is for Iowa and our nation." Iowa's senior senator, Chuck Grassley, told reporters he didn't believe Romney really opposed the extension, and he joined five other GOP lawmakers in voting for it in the Senate Finance Committee.

The Obama campaign quickly organized conference calls for reporters and circulated fact sheets showing the deep support the credit has in such swing-voting states as Iowa, Colorado and Nevada.

The backlash on the wind tax issue shows the risks Romney takes in targeting a fast-growing and popular industry that Obama has embraced. However, Romney's aides argue the campaign is just making a principled economic argument against excessive government interference in the marketplace -- one that the conservative movement, which Romney has struggled to win over, has praised.

Indeed, Patrick Hedger, a researcher at FreedomWorks, a small-government group that is a prominent backer of the tea party movement, called Romney's position "a happy surprise." He added that Republicans who feared a political cost from Romney's position were stuck in an outdated way of thinking.

"We've got to get out of this cycle of buying votes with money we don't have," Hedger said.

But critics contend that Romney, who counts members of the fossil fuels industry as major financial supporters and relies on the head of an oil company as his energy adviser, has backed himself into a corner. "I think it's really a knee-jerk reaction to what this president has done," said Jeff Gohringer, a spokesman for the League of Conservation Voters. "He (Romney) is actually going to states and advocating cutting thousands of their jobs."

Surveys show the industry's popularity. A Gallup poll in March found Americans nearly twice as likely to favor wind and solar energy as coal or oil. The American Wind Energy Association released a poll last month showing that more than half of Iowa's voters say they would not back a presidential candidate who did not support expanding wind power. A January poll by Colorado College found that a majority of voters in six Western states believe that expanding renewable energy will create more jobs.

In Colorado, GOP Rep. Doug Lamborn says he was pleased the Romney campaign took a stand against the tax credit. "It shows he's standing on principle and not pandering to win votes," Lamborn said. But Lamborn is the only one of the state's seven congressional reps to oppose the extension.

Obama made green jobs a focus of his 2008 campaign, and he included tens of billions of dollars in incentives to promote energy efficiency and the renewable industry in federal stimulus efforts. After Solyndra's bankruptcy last year, Republicans lined up to criticize the administration program that guaranteed the firm's loans, and Romney has broadened the attack to the administration's support for the entire industry.

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