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BUSH DEFENDS HIS RECORD ON ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

SHARE BUSH DEFENDS HIS RECORD ON ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

President Bush emotionally defended his environmental record against charges at the worldwide Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro that the United States weakened a treaty on global warming.

Bush became angry in response to a question at an evening news conference Thursday on the topic, blaming environmental "extremists," as he put it, for the negative reviews at the U.N.-sponsored conference. Bush is to address the forum next week."I'm not going to be driven by the extremists in the movement," Bush said. "We've got a sound and sensible environmental record and we've got a strong role in international leadership."

Bush also deployed a previously used argument for defending his policies, namely that tougher environmental rules and regulations would harm business, hamper a sluggish recovery and throw Americans out of work.

"I am not going to go down there and forget about the people in the United States of America who do not have jobs," he said.

Bush's comments came after several U.S. allies, such as Germany and Canada, embarrassed the administration by announcing Wednesday that they would sign a treaty to protect the world's prized ecosystems and habitats.

Environmental groups also have convened to attack the administration. Worldwatch Institute founder Lester Brown said that the president will find it hard to establish his environmental credentials in the fall election after weakening the treaty on global warming and rejecting a pact on biodiversity.

Brazil and other nations began signing the diluted final version of the pact Thursday.

Bush did not directly address the issue over watering down the pact but defended his positions in broad terms on the environment. He noted that Americans had spent $800 billion over the past 10 years in cleaning up the air, water and land, and would spend another $1.2 trillion over the ensuing 10 years to reduce pollution further.

The president, dogged by slumping polls and an insurgent Ross Perot, insists voters will re-elect him once they begin to reap the rewards of economic recovery.

"Seventy percent of the people think the economy is getting worse. I think it is getting better," Bush said. Once voters see the change, he said, "I think the American people will support me."

The president said he wanted to wait until the general campaign before taking on Perot and Democrat Bill Clinton but indicated he would debate both in the fall.

Bush was finally drawn out on Perot when asked what he would say to the fellow Texan - if he bumped into him on the street - in effort to get him to end his White House quest.

"I'd say, Ross, I've been a good president. I believe a man of your ability and talent ought to support me," Bush said.

He added wryly, "It might be a little bit of a long-shot persuading him."

The president opened the news conference - broadcast only by CNN - by making another pitch for a proposed constitutional amendment to balance the budget.

"Today, I'm more convinced than ever that a balanced budget amendment is the only way to get government to live within its means," he said.