Environmental Protection Agency staff on Tuesday received a pep talk from President Barack Obama in a speech pushing back against its reputation among conservatives as a heavy-handed job-killing regulator.

Obama's remarks were a full-throated defense of an agency its critics in Congress say hampers job creation by saddling businesses with onerous and costly regulations.

The president rebutted the idea that the EPA must be pulled back to grow the economy.

I do not buy the notion that we have to make a choice between having clean air and clean water and growing this economy in a robust way. I think that is a false debate, Obama said to applause.

Cites Fuel Efficiency as Regulation That Can Create Jobs

He cited fuel efficiency standards that he said will slash oil consumption by 12 billion barrels and reduce pollution while saving drivers thousands of dollars at the pump; and regulations that create jobs from building and installing pollution-control technology.

We can make sure we are going right by our environment and in fact putting people back to work across America, Obama said. What's good for the environment can also be good for the economy.

Obama's remarks were made a day after U.S. Supreme Court justices ripped into the EPA in a case involving a family who had to remove the foundation for their future dream home because it was placed on protected wetlands in violation of the Clean Water Act.

The EPA also hit a rough patch within the Obama administration in September when the president put a stop to new rules tightening Bush-era smog standards. The new standards were opposed by Congressional Republicans.

Though environmentalists were furious with the decision, Obama said smog regulations were up for review in 2013 and that it was unnecessary to burden businesses with new standards before then.

Nonetheless, Obama chastised those who want to weaken the EPA, noting the fire that raged on Ohio's oil-slicked and polluted Cuyahoga River a year before President Richard Nixon created the agency.

When I hear folks grumbling about environmental policy, Obama said, you almost want to do a 'Back to the Future' kind of reminder for folks of what happened when we didn't have a strong EPA.