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Santorum cites Obama for rising gas prices

GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum on Monday blamed the "radical environmental policies" of the Obama administration for rising gas prices. He said he would promote "responsible environmental stewardship" as president, including support for the coal industry and the Keystone Pipeline.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he told a cheering crowd of several hundred in this once-booming steel town, "we need someone who understands, who comes from the coal fields, who comes from the steel mills, who understands what ordinary working people in America need to provide for themselves and their families."

Santorum grew up not far away, in the coal and steel country of western Pennsylvania. He often tells the story of how his grandfather came from Italy to work in the coal fields. As he introduced his wife, his in-laws and three of his seven children to the crowd, he said, "It's great to be back home."

Although Obama has disappointed many in the environmental movement and has expressed support for the controversial practice of hydraulic "fracking" for oil in shale rock, Santorum has been going after him in recent days for being a "radical environmentalist," especially the president's decision to postpone approval of the Keystone Pipeline from Canada.

Two days ago, Santorum was quoted as saying that Obama adheres to "some phony theology," remarks that were interpreted by some as an attack on the president's faith. Santorum has since said he was referring to Obama's views on the environment, which, he said, put more importance on the Earth than on humanity.

He repeated that Monday as he criticized the Obama administration for recently imposing new environmental regulations on coal-fired power plants, causing some to close. He said the administration's actions were based on "phony studies" and "a lack of scientific evidence." He added: "I refer to global warming as not climate science, but political science."

That line brought lusty cheers from the crowd.

Meanwhile, GOP rival Mitt Romney said Santorum is "no longer a budget hawk" and that he would do a better job controlling spending as president.

Also campaigning in Ohio, Romney accused the former Pennsylvania senator of helping congressional Republicans spend money "like Democrats." The former Massachusetts governor said he would cut the federal budget in part by giving control of Medicaid, housing vouchers and food stamps back to the states.

Romney urged Ohio voters to back him in their March 6 primary because Ohio "often decides who the president is."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.