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Kerry says corporations sway environmental rules

LITCHFIELD, N.H. -- Buffeted since Sunday by a messy campaign shake-up, Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts returned yesterday to the safe haven of one of his signature political issues, the environment, proposing a new federal commission to stop "special interests" from influencing environmental regulators.

Kerry, standing by the once heavily polluted Merrimack River with local environmentalists who have endorsed his presidential bid, said that the bipartisan commission would investigate complaints of political and corporate influence over the Environmental Protection Agency.

Kerry accused the Bush administration of prematurely ending investigations of power plants and energy companies that allegedly released thousands of tons of sulfer dioxide and other pollutants into the environment.

"I'm running for president because, at every turn, George Bush has favored tax cuts for the wealthy and breaks for the special interests over the protection of this river and other rivers and streams all across America," Kerry said. "He is buckled to powerful lobbyists and special interests rather than standing up for the long-term interests of our children."

Kerry hopes to rally New Hampshire voters, especially those families living near some 200 polluted lakes and streams here, behind his tough stand on environmental protection honed during 19 years in the Senate. In recent weeks, Kerry has given speeches and run a television ad casting himself as an opponent of "big polluters" and "special interests."

It was a relatively quiet day for Kerry -- who was a bit fatigued after a red-eye flight from California on Tuesday night -- following days of disruption within his campaign. Kerry fired campaign manager Jim Jordan on Sunday night, saying his candidacy needed a new direction and momentum, and two other senior advisers quit on Tuesday to protest the firing.

Kerry disputed yesterday a suggestion that his campaign was in turmoil.

"Not in the least," Kerry said. "I think we're doing just fantastically." Referring to his decision to replace Jordan with strategist Mary Beth Cahill, Kerry again used the Red Sox Game 7 collapse in the American League Championship Series as an analogy, saying: "This is like Grady Little and Pedro, and I made the move that [Little] didn't. But we're still going to win the World Series. You watch."

Offering historical perspective for Howard Dean's current double-digit lead over him in several New Hampshire polls, Kerry said: "I'm not as far behind in New Hampshire as Al Gore was to Bill Bradley" at this point in the 2000 Democratic primary. Gore went on to beat Bradley.

Patrick Healy can be reached at phealy@globe.com.

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