Obama Says U.S. Can Protect Environment Without Hurting Jobs

President Barack Obama highlighted his administration’s initiatives on the environment and told Environmental Protection Agency workers cleaner air and water doesn’t have to come at the expense of economic growth.

Obama visited the Washington headquarters of an agency that has been a frequent target of criticism from Republicans in Congress and the candidates seeking to challenge him in November’s presidential election.

“We don’t have to choose between dirty air and dirty water, and a growing economy,” Obama told the EPA staff. He vowed to “stand with you every inch of the way.”

Republican presidential candidates, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Representative Ron Paul, have called for abolishing the EPA. And former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said in a Dec. 4 debate that the agency “has gotten completely out of control” and is hindering energy development.

Obama stopped at the EPA the same day the Republican presidential candidates are waiting for results from today’s primary election in New Hampshire.

The president said that, before the EPA was created by then-President Richard Nixon in 1970, some waterways were heavily polluted and cars were emitting lead pollution into the air.

“You almost want to do a ‘Back to the Future’ kind of reminder of folks of what happens when we didn’t have a strong EPA,” Obama said.

‘Clear Contrast’

Heather Taylor-Miesle, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, an advocacy group, wrote in a blog posting that Obama’s visit is meant to “present a clear contrast” to Republican candidates.

Still, Obama has drawn some criticism from environmentalists. On Sept. 2, he sided with Republicans and business leaders and canceled the EPA’s proposed tighter rules on ozone. That put him at odds with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

He said the decision was influenced by his consideration of “reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover.”

The higher ozone standards would have cost $19 billion to $90 billion, according to the White House.

Obama’s decision means that states and counties must comply with an ozone standard of 75 parts per billion set by President George W. Bush’s administration. A scientific advisory panel had said a limit of 60 to 70 parts per billion was necessary to protect public health and Jackson had proposed cutting the level to 70 parts per billion.

Obama said today that his commitment to the environment and the economy “doesn’t mean that there aren’t going to be some tensions.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t going to be legitimate debates that take place.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Margaret Talev in Washington at mtalev@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steve Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net

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