Sen. Barack Obama vowed Thursday to restore environmental protections the Bush administration has rolled back through executive orders, especially at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Obama said the EPA has been "demoralized."

The Democratic presidential hopeful from Illinois also said he intends to spend significant time campaigning in Nevada because the state with an early Jan. 19 caucus date is representative of a Western region he said is the key to the nation's future.

And he predicted he could compete with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York by appealing to rural voters.

Making his third appearance in Nevada, Obama said much of the Bush administration's weakening of environmental regulations has been accomplished through administrative orders without congressional action.

"That means President Obama can reverse them by executive order," Obama told reporters after a speech to about 4,000 at a downtown Reno park on an island in the middle of the Truckee River.

"I think the slow chipping away against clean air and clean water has been deeply disturbing. Much of it hasn't gone through Congress. It was done by fiat," he said. "That is something that can be changed by an administration, in part by reinvigorating the EPA, which has been demoralized"

Obama added: "When you've got folks at the top who are not serious about enforcing environmental laws, then all through the civil service people get discouraged."

Earlier in the day in Carson City, Obama said in a brief interview with The Associated Press that while other candidates such as Clinton have more early endorsements in the state, he will catch up with grass-roots support — especially in rural areas.

"One of the reasons I'm a U.S. senator is that I got strong support from places like southern Illinois where it's about as rural and southern as you get," Obama said. "These are areas back in my home state that are pro-gun, very religious and with low minority populations — and we have consistently done well because I think there is a set of common values that people share."

The first-term senator also had kind words for one of Nevada's top industries — gambling.

Nevada "has done a terrific job of regulating the industry. It has become a major growth engine, and I think other people from other states — including my mother-in-law — love to come here," Obama said in a brief interview with The Associated Press.