updated 4/20/2004 12:56:49 PM ET 2004-04-20T16:56:49

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry on Tuesday accused President Bush of “playing dirty” by gutting the nation’s environmental laws, contending that the president has reversed 30 years of progress.

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Speaking along the shore of Tampa Bay for a photo-friendly rally, Kerry said he would toughen environmental regulation and rejected arguments that protecting the environment damages the economy.

“They use the same tired old argument that you can’t have a clean environment if you want a strong economy,” Kerry said. “Well, they’re wrong. You can have both.”

Kerry cast his environmental argument in economic terms by noting that beach closings in Florida have reached record levels and threaten the state’s $50 billion tourism industry.

“George W. Bush has ignored these serious threats and has demonstrated the same callous disregard for oceans that he has for America’s other environmental treasures,” he said.

“We all know that when it comes to this administration and the environment, they’re playing dirty,” he said. “Our kids are paying for this one way or the other.”

Kerry said he would enforce laws on the books aimed at protecting coastal waters and would boost funding for programs that help local officials clean polluted waters.

“This bay today is cleaner than it has been in the past because people came together and fought to make it that way,” he said.

Former EPA administrator Carol Browner accompanied Kerry and called the Bush administration “the worst administration ever” on environmental issues.

Three-day campaign swing
Kerry was opening a three-day swing, taking him from Florida to New Orleans to Houston, to discuss environmental issues with the approach of Earth Day on Thursday. He was making time for campaign fund-raisers along the way.

On Monday, Kerry’s campaign released a lengthy critique of Bush’s treatment of the environment, accusing him of fighting to weaken protections on several fronts. Kerry’s campaign also launched a television ad in five states that accuses the president of allowing corporate polluters to rewrite the nation’s environmental laws.

Bush’s re-election campaign immediately rejected Kerry’s criticisms.

“President Bush has focused on making our air, water and land cleaner,” campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said. “The president’s environmental policies have significantly improved public health and environmental protection, including protecting our natural resources.”

In its critique, Kerry’s campaign said the president’s air quality proposals will send 21 tons more pollution into the atmosphere, contribute to up to 100,000 premature deaths from respiratory troubles and induce millions of asthma attacks.

The report claims that one in 12 women of childbearing age has enough mercury in her system to pose a potential threat to fetal health.

$30 billion MTBE cleanup?
Bush also has opposed efforts to ban the gasoline additive MTBE, a petroleum-based product that critics argued has fouled water supplies in 28 states. The campaign critique contends that Bush has supported protections that would prohibit the petroleum industry from being forced to clean up such pollution. As a result, the report says, taxpayers will foot the bill for the cleanup, which could approach $30 billion.

Browner said one of the Bush administration’s worst environmental decisions was to allow older, dirtier power plants to largely avoid converting to cleaner technology. She said up to 30,000 premature deaths a year are blamed on pollution from power plants.

“George Bush is reversing 30 years of environmental policies that have protected public health and safety,” the critique concluded. “The Bush administration has crippled provisions of the landmark Clean Air Act, rolled back important regulations and proposed drilling in the pristine Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.”

Schmidt, Bush’s campaign spokesman, said Kerry was continuing his own “campaign of pessimism with this latest round of false attacks.”

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