MONROE, Mich. - President Bush defended his proposal to ease industrial pollution rules Monday, saying the regulations would fight dirty air while keeping electricity flowing and Americans working.
The proposed rules would make it easier for thousands of older power plants, refineries, factories, chemical plants and paper mills to make major upgrades without installing costly new antipollution controls.
The old rules "created too many hurdles, and that hurts the working people," he said at a coal-fired electric plant as he tried to strengthen his environmental image during a trip to Michigan and Pennsylvania, two states crucial to his re-election strategy.
Bush said his new rules would encourage plants like the Detroit Edison facility he toured to invest in new, environmentally friendly equipment without fear of costlier improvements ordered by the government, or years of litigation. And, citing last month's enormous power blackout, Bush said encouraging power companies to install new equipment would help improve the nation's power infrastructure.
"I'm interested in job creation and clean air, and I believe we can do both," he said.
The president's remarks provoked a torrent of criticism from environmentalists and Democrats. Protesters used an inflatable power plant with black smokestacks to deride Bush's environmental policies, but they were kept a mile from his event.
"The backdrop of President Bush's latest environment photo op - the dirtiest power plant in Michigan - says it all," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., a presidential candidate. "Under Bush's policies, this antiquated coal-burning plant will get a free pass to keep pumping smoke and soot into the air with impunity."
The Detroit Edison plant is one of the dirtiest in the country, emitting nearly 150,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides every year, said Eric Schaeffer, the chief of civil enforcement under the Clinton administration's Environmental Protection Agency.
It was Bush's 11th visit to Michigan, and he was following it with his 22nd visit to Pennsylvania. He lost both states to Democrat Al Gore in 2000 and is making a determined effort to win them next year. In Pennsylvania, Bush brought in about $1.4-million at a fundraiser to pad his primary campaign war chest, to pad his primary campaign war chest, already worth more than $63-million for his unopposed bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
Michigan is in the heart of the nation's industrial belt, and Bush has been trying to persuade the nation that he can stem the loss of manufacturing jobs. During a tour of the sprawling power plant, Bush donned a hard hat and posed for photos with blue-collar workers.
Bush will continue promoting his environmental agenda today at the White House, aides said, as he urges Congress to act on a proposal that he said would reduce power plant pollution by 70 percent. Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., said Bush's plan would allow the plant here to spew an additional 36,000 tons of additional sulfur dioxide, which causes soot and acid rain.
Bush brought along a team of high-ranking environmental officials to help spread his message on smokestack rules, part of a Clean Air Act process known as "new source review."
When they finished talking to reporters, the White House rolled out power plant managers, who offered a sympathetic view.
Bush called the Detroit Edison plant "a living example of why we acted."
In 1999, plant officials wanted to install new turbine blades on its electricity generators, which allow more power to be generated with the same amount of coal without increasing emissions, said Gerry Anderson, the plant's president and chief operating officer.
But the company had to wait a year for a response from the EPA, and plant officials feared the agency would order a billion-dollar upgrade under new source review. The process set the upgrade back by five years, Bush and Anderson said.