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Today, the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency got a new name. It's now the William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building. The environment may not top the list when people think about Clinton's accomplishments in office, but today, at a naming ceremony, Clinton defended his legacy on the issue, as NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports.
ELIZABETH SHOGREN, BYLINE: The building that's been renamed after President Clinton is one of those imposing limestone structures near the National Mall. It's right next to the Ronald Reagan Building. President Clinton accepted his new honor in an elaborate hall inside the EPA complex. He said he'd just read an article where someone wondered whether it's appropriate to name the EPA headquarters after him.
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: I think it more than sort of fits not for me but for what we did. For what our administration did.
SHOGREN: President Clinton outlined efforts that protected wild lands, coral reefs and old growth trees. He stressed that his administration put in place rules to clean up the exhaust from factories and vehicles and set the first air quality standards for soot.
CLINTON: When I left office, there were 43 million more Americans breathing air that met federal standards, which means less asthma among young people and fewer senior citizens dying because of air pollution.
SHOGREN: He credited his team for doing much of the work, including his interior secretary, Bruce Babbit, his EPA chief Carol Browner and especially his vice president, Al Gore. Judy Layzer is an associate professor of environmental policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She says unlike Gore, President Clinton wasn't an environmentalist, but he stood up for the EPA when it faced the most frightening attack it had ever had. Congressional Republicans led by Newt Gingrich wanted to gut regulations. Layzer recalls some even wanted to do away with the EPA.
JUDITH LAYZER: Instead of backing down the way liberals often do and the way environmentalists sometimes do and the way Clinton sometimes did, he really reared up and said, you know, we're going to protect these environmental laws. We are not going to let Congress gut them.
SHOGREN: But President Clinton's record on the environment was mixed. He supported trade deals that were criticized for hurting the environment. And although he signed the international climate change treaty called the Kyoto Protocol, he didn't even send it to Congress to be ratified because the Senate warned him with a vote.
CLINTON: It is the only bill I ever lost in Congress before I sent it to them, and an astonishing example of bipartisan cooperation in the Senate, which voted against it 98 to nothing.
SHOGREN: President Clinton said these days, leaders no longer have the option of ignoring climate change if they want to build jobs and strong economies.
CLINTON: That is what the whole 21st century world is going to be about.
SHOGREN: Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.