"The lights went out last month — you know that," Mr. Bush said at Detroit Edison's Monroe power plant, south of Detroit in southeastern Michigan, which was darkened by the blackout. "It might have been good for candle sales, but it certainly was not good for job growth," he said. "It recognizes that we've got an issue with our electricity grid and we need to modernize it."
The president trumpeted a new EPA survey that shows that over the last three decades, the economy grew by 164 percent, even as emissions of six leading air pollutants declined by 48 percent, reports CBS News Correspondent Mark Knoller.
"That should say to people that we can grow our economy, that we can work to create the conditions for job growth, and that we can be good stewards of the air we breathe," Mr. Bush said.
The president wants to be seen as an advocate of clean air policy, though environmentalists question his commitment and Congress has yet to enact his Clear Skies initiative.
The initiative would phase in caps on the emissions of nitrogen oxides, which cause smog, and sulfur dioxide, which causes soot and acid rain, from coal-burning power plants starting in 2010. It also would create the first controls on mercury releases and introduce market forces to help spur reductions.
Environmentalists said the Bush air pollution plan would have weaker limits than the Clean Air Act that's already on the books. Even though power plants are a chief source of air pollution, the plan puts no limits on emissions of carbon dioxide, which is blamed for global warning, they say.
"Bush likes to talk about how much it will reduce pollution, but it actually undercuts the Clean Air Act," said Megan Owens, a spokeswoman for PIRGIM, a Michigan public advocacy group that set up an inflatable power plant near the plant and picketed Mr. Bush's visit with signs that said "Clean Air Now" and "Clean Air at Risk."
Mr. Bush also talked about new EPA regulations, finalized in recent weeks, that affect some of the nation's oldest coal-fired plants like Monroe. He argued that the changes remove barriers to modernization, helping to create jobs and maximizing energy efficiency as utilities go ahead with upgrades they before would have avoided.
"I'm interested in job creation and clean air," Mr. Bush said.
The Michigan trip was Mr. Bush's 11th trip as president to a key state he lost to Democrat Al Gore in 2000. Underscoring Mr. Bush's desire to clinch Michigan this time around, Commerce Secretary Don Evans also was in the state on Monday to talk about trade.
From there, for the 22nd time, Mr. Bush was visiting Pennsylvania, another populous state he lost, to add to his $63 million in 2004 re-election cash with a fund-raising appearance later Monday in the Philadelphia suburb of Drexel Hill.
In 1977, Congress amended the Clean Air Act to require new power plants and other industrial facilities to have modern pollution controls. Some of the nation's oldest coal-burning plants were exempted from these stiffer regulations unless they underwent major modifications — work that went beyond "routine maintenance" — or increased the amount of pollutants spewed into the air.
"Plants were discouraged from doing routine maintenance because of government regulation," Mr. Bush said, listing the reasons he proposed the new EPA rules. "All that does is it makes the plant less reliable less efficient and not as environmentally friendly as it should be."
The Clean Air Act anticipated that these older plants eventually would be phased out, but many are still operating — still without the better pollution-control devices, said Bob Perciasepe, vice president of policy at the National Audoban Society and former EPA assistant administrator for air during the Clinton administration.
Power companies have argued for the past several years that they refrained from modernizing plants because of confusion surrounding the regulation in which even the most routine power plant maintenance or increases in efficiencies might prompt the EPA to require the more expensive pollution equipment.
"The idea was for the plants to hook on new pollution control equipment as they were modernized," Perciasepe said. "But with the new rules, a plant, over a period of years can modernize virtually an entire old plant without having to put on the air pollution equipment," he said.