Mitt Romney's campaign opened an attack on the Obama administration's climate change policies yesterday by warning farmers that greenhouse gas regulations could hike fuel prices. He also suggested that President Obama might pursue a carbon-pinching cap-and-trade program if he wins the election.
The new wrinkle in Romney's economic argument is a touchstone for rural voters in crucial swing states, where concern about the government's reach extends to field dust, pesticides and tractor emissions. It is also aimed at a key bloc of voters in must-have states like Ohio and Iowa.
Surrounded by hay bales in front of a white barn, Romney told a windblown crowd in Van Meter, Iowa, that President Obama's administration is aggressively pursuing environmental initiatives that could harm farmers. In doing so, he touched on some policies that U.S. EPA has denied pursuing. Romney also suggested that emission-pricing legislation could resurface if Obama is re-elected, even though Obama has sharply retreated from sweeping climate efforts.
"The regulatory burden under this administration has just gone crazy," Romney said. "They, of course, want to regulate dust."
"And then there's pushing cap and trade," he added. "I understand if they push cap and trade it will not only massively impact the income of farms, it will take millions of acres out of farming."
The Obama campaign responded sharply, issuing a fact sheet that accused Romney of telling "a series of falsehoods" about the president's plan for farmers.
"Romney has laid out policies dependent on scare tactics instead of fact -- dredging up myths about farm dust, airplane surveillance, child labor and water regulations that have been repeatedly debunked," the fact sheet says. "Romney would roll back environmental safeguards that protect the health of our children and keep our air and water clean."
'Climate change is not a hoax'
The maneuvering comes as Romney tries to build on the momentum from his successful debate with Obama last week. After his barnyard speech in Iowa yesterday, he traveled to Ohio, where Romney will spend three days appealing to voters who are crucial to his electoral calculations.
Polls show Romney advancing in Ohio, where he has gained 4 to 6 points since the debate last Wednesday. A CNN-ORC International poll released yesterday shows Obama leading Romney, with 51 percent to Romney's 47 percent of likely voters.
In Iowa, a Rasmussen Reports survey conducted over the weekend shows that Obama drew 49 percent of likely voters, 2 points more than Romney. Iowa polls conducted before the debate depicted a lead of 4 points for Obama.
Many environmentalists have reduced their expectations about climate change becoming a discussion point in the election. The issue makes only infrequent appearances, like last night, when Obama adjusted his stump speech to mention it at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.
"And my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet, because climate change is not a hoax. More drought and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They're a threat to your future. And we've got to make sure that we meet the moment. That's why I'm running."
More drought makes more climate believers
Romney's emphasis on farmers came as a poll was released yesterday showing that more people associate severe weather, like drought, with climate change. A large majority of Americans, now at 74 percent, say global warming is affecting weather, according to the poll by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. That is an increase of 5 points since March.
About half of the respondents -- 51 percent -- said drought is more common in their area now compared to the past few decades. Nationally, that is a 5-point increase since March, but opinions in the drought-stricken Midwest shot up by 25 points, to 66 percent, over that same time period.
Similarly, the number of Midwesterners who say they have personally experienced an extreme heat wave more than doubled since springtime (up 48 points to 83 percent). A larger increase was found when respondents were asked if they have felt the effects of drought in the past year (up 55 points to 81 percent).
Still, there is widespread doubt about the causes of climate change within the farming community. Romney didn't address the scientific underpinnings of global warming yesterday in Iowa. But he did stoke concern among rural Iowans about big government programs and their possible costs.
The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation was an opponent of cap and trade in Obama's early years as president. Yesterday, Romney reminded farmers that if he is president, they won't have to worry about paying carbon fees.
"We oppose climate change legislation, which mandates practices like greenhouse gas reporting, methane emission reporting [and] mandatory cap and trade," said Trudy Wastweet, the national policy adviser for the Iowa Farm Bureau, noting that farmers already pursue voluntary conservation efforts.
"It's real hard to swallow a pill that mandates certain conduct on the farm, and so what our members favor are incentive- or market-driven opportunities to be more efficient and be better conservationists," she added.