When Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts, he "stood in front of a coal plant and pointed at it and said, ‘This plant kills.’"

Barack Obama on Tuesday, October 16th, 2012 in in a town-hall debate in Long Island, N.Y.

Obama says Romney once said a coal-burning plant ‘kills people’

Energy policy and gas prices garnered a lot of attention in the town-hall style debate between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

Romney accused Obama of stifling domestic production and said he would champion the oil and coal industries. Obama fired back that Romney hasn’t always been such a proponent of coal.

"Governor, when you were governor of Massachusetts, you stood in front of a coal plant and pointed at it and said, ‘This plant kills,’ and took great pride in shutting it down. And now suddenly you're a big champion of coal," Obama said.

PolitiFact Ohio has looked into this bit of Bay State history before, rating a statement similar to this one. We’ll recap.

The Salem Harbor Power Station

Back on Feb. 5, 2003, Romney made several statements during a showdown over the future of the controversial, coal-burning Salem Harbor Power Station, in the Boston area.

A couple of years earlier, Massachusetts had passed new rules to reduce power plant emissions of nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and mercury, to be phased in over several years. The mercury standard would not be finalized until 2004. As governor, Romney supported the rules, as he made clear repeatedly.
Massachusetts singled out its most egregious polluters as the "Filthy Five" plants, including Salem Harbor. Public health and environmental scientists at Harvard studied the emissions from two of the plants in 2000 and concluded that Salem Harbor was responsible for 53 deaths, 570 emergency room visits, 14,400 asthma attacks and 99,000 incidents of upper respiratory symptoms -- all per year.
Local residents and others who wanted to keep the Salem Harbor plant open (for jobs and tax revenues) disputed those figures, saying they resulted from unproven modeling. It turned out that the Harvard scientists had revised their figures in 2002, putting premature deaths from Salem Harbor’s pollution at 30 per year and reducing the number of emergency room visits to 400 and the asthma attacks at 2,000, according to the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald.
But the scientists stood by the broader conclusion -- that emissions from dirty power plants can be deadly. The Harvard methodology has now been widely replicated and is respected by health scientists, according to several environmental authorities we spoke with. Romney appeared to accept their findings, too.

The spat with Salem Harbor turned into a testy exchange after Salem Harbor’s then-owner, Pacific Gas and Electric, sought an extension until 2006 to comply with Massachusetts’ emissions rules -- and plant supporters showed up to to demand that the governor back off. Romney was adamant that the company comply by 2004 and appeared at a press conference near the plant to emphasize the point.

His statements that day show how he felt, and they’re documented in this video: "I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people, and that plant -- that plant kills people."

Our ruling

Obama said Romney has changed his tune about coal, claiming that in Massachusetts he "stood in front of a coal plant and pointed at it and said, ‘This plant kills.’"

Romney was the newly elected governor when a showdown erupted over the coal-burning Salem Harbor Power Station. Obama quoted Romney accurately when he said the governor entered the controversy by saying the plant "kills people."

We rate his statement True.