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Bush defends industrial pollution rules

Proposed guidelines would ease controls on upgrades

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President Bush on Monday tours Detroit Edison power plant, called dirtiest power plant in Michigan by critics.

President Bush on Monday tours Detroit Edison power plant, called dirtiest power plant in Michigan by critics.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

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 anti-pollution 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 is also one of the biggest in the country.

The plant "is the perfect place for the White House and the energy lobby to celebrate their latest rollback of the Clean Air Act," said Schaeffer, now the director of the Environmental Integrity Project.

It was Bush's 11th visit to Michigan, and he followed 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 the Philadelphia suburb of Drexel Hill, Bush brought in about $1.4 million at a fund-raiser to pad his primary campaign war chest, already worth more than $63 million for his unopposed bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

About 50 demonstrators gathered a block away from the catering hall where the fund-raiser was held, chanting anti-war slogans and booing Bush's motorcade.

"We can't afford the $2,000 a head the donors are paying to get inside, so we're living out democracy behind the barricades," said Terry Rumsey of Delaware County Wage Peace and Justice. "We have a very simple message for President Bush: End the war, U.N. and U.S. out of Iraq and bring our troops home now."

Bush made plain in his fund-raising speech that he has no intention of pulling back from Iraq, where a soldier died Monday after a rocket-propelled attack on his patrol — the second U.S. casualty in as many days.

"This collection of killers is trying to shake the will of Americans and the civilized world, but America will not be intimidated," Bush said.

Michigan and Pennsylvania are in the heart of the nation's industrial belt, and Bush has been trying to persuade the nation that he can stem the hemorrhaging 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 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.

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.

Schaeffer, the Clinton administration EPA official, disputed the company's account. "Because Detroit Edison's project was not expected to increase air pollution, EPA ruled that that particular project did not trigger NSR," Schaeffer said.