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In Richmond, Obama chides McDonnell on Chesapeake Bay

Rosalind Helderman

Most of the back-and-forth between President Obama and invited local residents in south Richmond on Wednesday dealt with the economy and other national issues.

But Obama did field one question on a Virginia state issue. And in his answer, he took a mild swipe at Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell (R).

One man asked Obama about a newly announced crackdown by the Environmental Protection Agency on five mid-Atlantic states, including Virginia, that are contributing to pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

The man bemoaned that state officials are resisting the EPA's desire to see tougher storm water run-off regulations, asserting that the clean-up effort would create jobs.

"Well, I agree with you," Obama shot back. "And I'll pass on your suggestions to Mr. McDonnell."

In a statement, Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech said state officials are "deeply disappointed" with the EPA's efforts. He called them "costly federal mandates that will likely cause economic harm to our citizens and lead to delays in achieving our clean water goals."

You can read both Obama's full exchange with the man at the Southampton Recreation Association and Domenech's full statement after the jump. Both are lengthy.

Here's Obama's full exchange with the man who was concerned about the Chesapeake Bay, per a transcript of the event distributed by the White House:

Q: I'd like to ask you about a local and regional issue -- the James River that runs through Richmond here and the Chesapeake Bay into which it goes. The Perrys depend on the James River to make a living with their outfitting company. Your EPA has very thankfully initiated a wonderful effort to finally clean up all the waters that enter the Chesapeake Bay.

However, our state government is resisting playing its part, whereas going ahead with this cleanup would create thousands of private-sector jobs as well as the benefits from clean water and better fish. They're saying that we can't afford to do this in this economy, when actually doing it would be the kind of thing that would help the economy and our waters recover. Do you have anything to say about that?

Obama: Well, I agree with you, and I'll pass on your suggestions to Mr. McDonnell -- (laughter) -- because -- look, the point you make I think is important as sort of a general point, which is for a long time we tended to think of the environment in conflict with the economy, right? The notion was clean air, clean water is nice to have, but if it comes down to it, it's more important that we have jobs.

The point you're making is that clean air and clean water can improve the economy and create new jobs if we think about it in creative ways. And that's part of the argument that I've been making about clean energy.

Let me give you an example. When I came into office, we were producing about 2 percent of the advanced batteries that are used in hybrid cars and electric cars -- 2 percent of the market. And we were probably just barely hanging on. Eventually, if you only got 2 percent of the market, you're going to end up with zero percent of the market.

So what we did was we said as part of the Recovery Act, let's invest in a Made in America, homegrown battery manufacturing effort. And we now have across the country people working in factories making advanced batteries that are going into American-made cars, because what we also did at the same time was we raised fuel-efficiency standards on cars and trucks for the first time in 30 years. We didn't do that, by the way, through legislation. We actually got autoworkers and auto companies and environmentalists and all the stakeholders to agree on raising fuel-efficiency standards nationally. So it didn't get a lot of attention, because there wasn't a big ruckus in Washington, we just did it.

And so automakers now want to make more fuel-efficient cars, and we now have the advanced battery manufacturing here in the United States to take advantage of that new market. We estimate that by 2015, we're going to have 40 percent of the advanced battery market.

So you've got a homegrown manufacturing industry here in the United States, putting people to work in good jobs and good wages. But that wouldn't have happened if there wasn't a market for clean cars

But I want everybody to understand there are going to be some times where we do have to make some choices. I mean, coal is a good example, where -- coal is a dirty-burning fuel, and mining coal can often be environmentally really destructive, particularly to rivers and waterways. On the other hand, we've got tons of coal. We're the Saudi Arabia of coal.

So what I've said is, well, let's invest in research and development to see if we can burn coal cleanly. And if we have regulations that provide incentives for coal companies to burn coal cleanly and mine coal cleanly, they'll adapt and they'll start using new technologies, and that will create a more future-oriented growth industry.

But a lot of folks resisted. Their attitude is, well, no, we don't want to change anything. We just want to keep on doing what we've been doing.

Sooner or later, the world passes you by. China, India, Japan -- all these countries are all thinking about new ways to find clean energy. And if we're not the ones who get there first in terms of figuring this stuff out, then they're the ones who are going to get the jobs of the future. And I don't want them to get those jobs. I want us to have those jobs right here in the United States.

And here's Domenech's full statement about the new EPA efforts:

We are deeply disappointed that EPA has not recognized the value of an expanded nutrient credit exchange program in Virginia to help ease the significant burdens of reducing nutrients and sediment.

EPA also announced its intention to implement costly federal mandates that will likely cause economic harm to our citizens and lead to delays in achieving our clean water goals. We had hoped that EPA would accept the reasonable and cost-effective approach developed by the Commonwealth. We had also hoped that prior to taking the far-reaching actions that EPA has proposed, it would allow the states to benefit from the advice and input of our citizens through the public comment period that begins today before making any decisions.

We remain committed to a restored Chesapeake Bay, but we also remain committed to achieving our goals in the most sensible and cost-effective manner possible.

By Rosalind Helderman  | September 30, 2010; 12:49 PM ET
Categories:  Rosalind Helderman  
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as if mcdonnell cares about the bay.

Posted by: MarilynManson | September 30, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

As if Obama even knows if McDonnell cares or not. Of course Virginia can have a self serving orginization like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation that takes money to build itself monuments and does little more than give kids boat rides in return for the tens of millions they have taken and spent on themselves.

Posted by: Pilot1 | September 30, 2010 7:17 PM | Report abuse

Let's continue to pollute the bay until there are no more crabs or oysters available, and then we can complain that there is no commerce from a formerly rich natural resource.

Posted by: Anglo_Rider | October 1, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

To me, the interesting thing about this is not that Obama got in a tangential criticism of the Virginia governor; it's the academic way he spoke about the whole subject. In this exchange you can sort of see where his head is at.

It's interesting in an academic way, this concept that jobs and economic strength may not be in conflict with a healthy ecosystem. It's a cool concept to mull over.

But it's characteristic of somebody who was totally formed by our liberal education system - never worked a job, never ran a company, never served in the military ... studied concepts his whole life -- to talk like that about everything. This guy is an A student who got to be a prof and he runs a really great seminar. And his point about the batteries would be a nice focus for some kind of think tank paper.

Can he get it done? Well... that's a problem. And meantime, when it's about whether people are with him or not ... well, "let's invest in research and development to see if we can" just does not have the ring of "yes we can," that's for sure.

Posted by: pressF1 | October 5, 2010 7:22 PM | Report abuse

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