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In an attempt to mollify his base, the president insisted he is still committed to protecting the public health.

“I want to be clear: My commitment and the commitment of my administration to protecting public health and the environment is unwavering,” Mr. Obama said. “I will continue to stand with the hardworking men and women at the EPA as they strive every day to hold polluters accountable and protect our families from harmful pollution.”

Another White House official defended Mr. Obama’s record on the environment, pointing to his push for doubling vehicle fuel efficiency by 2025 and cutting emissions from power plants.

Said Ms. Jackson of EPA in a statement, “This administration has put in place some of the most important standards and safeguards for clean air in U.S. history.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the president’s action “highlights the devastating impact on jobs that has been created by this administration’s regulatory overreach.”

“There are hundreds of regulations that even the administration acknowledges will cost America’s job creators billions of dollars,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement. “This action alone will prevent more job losses than any speech the president has given, and I hope he will listen to the bipartisan calls from across the country to address his administration’s negative impact on job creation.”