By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former President Bill Clinton, who made the Environmental Protection Agency a Cabinet-level department, was honored on Wednesday with the renaming of the EPA headquarters building after him.
Speaking at the ceremony for the William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building, and surrounded by many of his former colleagues, Clinton rebutted criticism from EPA critics that pro-environmental policies were often job killers, and said they were vital to economic growth in this century.
The event came as the Senate neared a confirmation vote on the nomination of Gina McCarthy as the new EPA administrator. McCarthy, currently the EPA's top clean-air official, is expected to be confirmed in a roll-call vote as early as this week after a months-long partisan battle.
Republican lawmakers held up the nomination while pushing for more transparency about the agency's decision-making process.
The EPA will be at the center of President Barack Obama's recently announced climate action plan. It has been directed to establish rules to limit greenhouse gases from the country's thousands of power plants, which account for more than one-third of emissions.
Clinton, who was president from 1993 to 2001, credited his vice president, Al Gore, for ensuring that the EPA gave business and industry flexible, market-based options to comply with regulations he said shielded them from soaring costs and job losses.
"You can have a growing economy with more jobs and rising incomes and a sustainable environmental policy," Clinton said in a speech.
Carol Browner, an EPA chief under Clinton and a former Obama energy czar, said Clinton empowered the EPA to enact necessary rules at a time of congressional gridlock, which she said would help McCarthy as she takes the reins of the agency.
The classical revival-style building in downtown Washington dates back to the 1930s and became EPA headquarters in 2002.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Ros Krasny and Peter Cooney)