TAMPA, Fla. – Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search), with Tampa Bay as a backdrop, pledged on Tuesday to toughen beach and coastal protections while contending that protecting the environment improves the economy and creates jobs.
"We don't have to choose between having a job and protecting the environment. It can go hand in hand," Kerry said. "These are jobs. What we need to recognize is that being responsible about the environment is not some goo-goo, do-gooder, silly notion that you embrace once a year on Earth Day."
Kerry opened a three-day campaign swing ahead of Thursday's Earth Day (search) commemorations with a round-table discussion with volunteers who have worked to clean the bay. He said he would put in place new monitoring programs for beaches, increase enforcement of runoffs that pollute the ocean during storms, and increase spending for cleanup efforts.
"This bay today is cleaner than it has been in the past because there were people who came together and fought to make it that way," Kerry said. He accused President Bush of slashing funding for sewage treatment plant construction and other efforts to control runoff along the nation's coasts.
"In three short years, this president has put the brakes on 30 years of environmental progress," Kerry said. "They're using the same tired old argument that you can't have a clean environment if you want a strong economy. Well, they're wrong. You can have both."
The Bush administration uses "empty slogans" to mask environmental degradation, Kerry said.
"The truth is, our air is more polluted today and getting more polluted, our water in many places is getting more polluted," he said.
Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush campaign, said the president has a strong environmental record ranging from cleaning polluted industrial sites to toughening clean air requirements.
"John Kerry's attacks are typical of the relentless negativity that's dominated his campaign," Schmidt said. "He's not offered a plan today, he's offered a political attack. That's in stark contrast to the president's positive record."
Kerry warned that record levels of beach closings, more than 1,700 in the state in 2002, threaten Florida's $50 billion tourist industry, which employs 900,000 people. Implementing his plans would create as many as 500,000 jobs, he said.
The number of beach closings in Florida were second only to California in 2002 and had doubled from the year before, according to a report last year by the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council (search). While it blamed storm water runoff and sewage overlfows, the report also noted that stricter standards and more monitoring had led to more closings.
Former Environmental Protection Agency (search) head Carol Browner, who joined Kerry in Tampa, labeled Bush "the worst administration ever" on environmental issues.
Kerry said he was determined to focus his campaign on key issues that motivate voters.
"Elections are about embracing things that make a difference in the quality of our lives," he said. "They're not supposed to be about attack ads and personal destruction."
The Massachusetts senator also cast his environmental message in generational terms.
"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."
Setting the stage for the Tampa event, the Kerry campaign released a lengthy critique of Bush's environmental policies, contending they have led to the dumping of an additional 21 tons of pollution into the air and contributed to an additional 100,000 premature deaths.
Kerry planned fund-raising events in Tampa and Miami as part of a 20-day effort to collect campaign cash. Of the $2.5 million raised Tuesday, $1 million was for the Democratic National Committee and the rest for the Kerry campaign.