Bill Clinton presses for climate action

Former President Clinton said Wednesday that confronting climate change and protecting the environment are “going to be the only way to have a sustainable economy” this century.

“That is what the whole 21st century world is going to be about for the next 30 or 40 years,” he said in remarks at a Washington, D.C., ceremony during which the Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters was officially renamed after the 42nd president.

EPA headquarters will now be known as the William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building.

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Clinton said global population growth, longer life expectancy and increasing competition for a slice of the world’s economy and resources will produce a strain on the environment that requires more commitment and cooperation.

“Wherever possible, creative cooperation is a heck of a lot better than conflict,” he said.

Clinton drew comparisons between the work of the EPA during his administration and the environmental regulations President Obama has promoted.

Obama’s EPA finalized regulations governing mercury emissions and is using the Clean Air Act to enact more rules to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

But those policies have generated attacks from Republicans and industry, who say regulations will hamper an economy that cannot afford any additional burdens.

Clinton hit critics who charge that environmental regulations handcuff economic activity, saying that his administration proved the economy could grow in tandem with stricter environmental rules.

He thanked former Vice President Gore, who wasn’t in attendance, for his help crafting regulations that he said offered enough flexibility for businesses to keep the economy running.

“If it hadn’t been for his leadership — his initiative particularly in the way we dealt with this regulation … it would have been a very different record,” Clinton said of Gore.

Clinton said some of the opposition to greenhouse gas and other environmental regulations has softened since he resided at the White House.

He noted that the “old economic model is not too hot anywhere,” referring to economic turmoil in the Middle East and Europe.

Clinton also predicted that China would turn inward to address its pollution problems, as citizens have clamored for the government to clean its smog-filled urban skies.

He said that would unleash local economic activity and compared it to similar efforts the EPA undertook under Clinton’s watch to clean up brownfield sites.

“They’re going to go through the same thing. That was really important,” said Clinton.

Clinton also held out hope for a breakthrough in international climate change negotiations.

The former president recalled putting the Kyoto Protocol before the Senate for ratification in 1997. The international climate treaty would have committed the U.S. and other industrialized countries to slash greenhouse gas emissions but exempted big polluters, such as China and India.

The Senate unanimously rejected the treaty, citing concerns about the competitive position of U.S. firms against those in China and India, who wouldn’t need to adhere to the accord.

Much has changed since then, Clinton asserted.

“In the late 90s, everybody believed that you could not get rich, stay rich or grow rich without putting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere,” he said. “Nobody believes that anymore.”