Reporting from Fargo, N.D. — Campaigning in the state with the nation's lowest unemployment rate, Mitt Romney pivoted to energy policy Thursday -- accusing President Obama of standing in the way of good paying jobs and using his energy policies to reward campaign donors in industries like wind and solar.
Romney, who has been endorsed by many of the state's most prominent Republicans, did not mention his Republican opponents in North Dakota -- apparently hoping to keep the focus on the contrast between his energy agenda and that of President Obama, who discussed his efforts to boost domestic energy production in New Hampshire on Thursday.
He argued that Obama has tried to stifle the development of oil and gas resources in the U.S. and said the president was wrong to try to strengthen federal oversight of fracking -- a technique where fluids are blasted into the ground to help extract oil and gas.
While North Dakota's rich natural resources have created a thriving economy compared to many other states -- its 3.3% unemployment rate is the lowest in the nation -- Romney said the Obama administration has thwarted the efforts of other states to tap into their natural resources.
Obama, Romney told an enthusiastic crowd at an early morning event in Fargo, has "tried to slow the growth of oil and gas production in this country, and coal production in this country. So far from taking credit, he should be hanging his head and taking a little bit of the blame for what's going on today."
As an example, Romney noted that states have long regulated fracking, but Obama "has got 10 different federal agencies trying to push their way into fracking so that they can slow down the development of oil and gas in this country."
Romney, who favors allowing expanding offshore oil drilling and permitting drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, argued that the Obama administration has also created uncertainty about future energy policy decisions — making it difficult for businesses to access loans, hire workers and expand: "We have to have a government that's responsive like businesses try to be," he said.
The former Massachusetts governor also criticized the Obama administration's decision to deny a permit for the 1,700-mile Keystone XL oil pipeline that would carry crude oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.
"When someone says do you want to bring in a pipeline that's going to create tens of thousands of jobs to bring oil in from Canada, how in the world could you say no? But he did," Romney said. "This is a president who does not understand energy. He is the problem. He is not the solution. It's time to get him out of office and get someone in who will get us energy-secure."
In January, the State Department announced that it had not had "sufficient time" to assess whether the Keystone XL project was in the national interest. Obama said the decision was "not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline" but rather a reflection of the fact that Congress had not given the State Department enough time to collect the information that was needed. The proposed route would have taken the pipeline through the environmentally sensitive area of the Nebraska Sandhills above the Ogallala aquifer.
Romney and a number of other Republican candidates routinely note their support for the Keystone XL pipeline in their stump speeches because it has been a rallying cry for what many Republican voters view as the Obama administration's over-regulation of business.
The Obama administration's efforts to increase the nation's reliance on green energy — through Department of Energy grants and the federal stimulus program — have amounted to picking winners and losers in the energy sector, he said.
"I like wind and solar sources of energy; I think they're great, but they are not going to drive our cars," he said, as some in the crowd nodded. "So we're going to develop them but we're not going to have the president deciding winners and losers. We want instead the free market and the free economy to encourage those sectors that have the greatest potential to get America energy secure."