States to Get Leeway in New Power Plant Regs

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy promised to be ‘absolutely flexible,’ a comment later reiterated by White House adviser John Podesta.

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The Obama administration’s tougher emissions standards, set to be unveiled in June, will not be one-size-fits-all, officials say. 

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Even as President Barack Obama apparently hardened his stance on a range of second-term goals during a meeting with Republican governors Monday, two senior administration officials promised that a new set of regulations for existing power plants will be “flexible.”

"We are going to put out a proposal that is both going to get significant [greenhouse gas emissions] reductions but be absolutely flexible, recognizing that states are all in very different places here, and we need to make this work," Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said the next day during an event at the White House.

Obama adviser John Podesta, speaking with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit outside Washington, D.C., echoed McCarthy’s comments later Tuesday afternoon.


“She wants to find a way to ensure that we move on that rapidly and can listen to stakeholders around the country,” Podesta said, adding that the new rules also will encourage regional cooperation between states.

[READ: Court Will Narrowly Rule on EPA Regs, Experts Say]

“I would anticipate that the rules themselves will at least open up the opportunity to states and regions to think about their energy platform together,” Podesta said.

Obama, facing partisan deadlock and little appetite for climate action in Congress, has enlisted the EPA to enforce tighter emissions standards. The new rules, set to be unveiled in June, will actually come at a rough midway point between two other rounds of new regulations: Last month, the EPA proposed a set of tighter emissions limits for new coal-fired power plants, and next year, stricter restrictions on mercury, acid gas and toxic metal emissions from all coal-fired power plants are scheduled to take effect.

Some coal plants, already facing stiff competition from low natural gas prices, are shuttering in the wake of the new regulations, the Energy Information Administration says, spurring industry groups and Republican lawmakers to accuse the Obama administration of essentially launching a “war on coal.”

“President Obama has blazed a regulatory path that wholly excludes input from elected officials in Congress or the millions of Americans who will ultimately foot the bill of his costly rulemaking,” Laura Sheehan, senior vice president of communications for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, said in a statement Monday.

Nevertheless, McCarthy has urged skeptics not to bash the June rules “out of the gate,” but to instead “give it a chance.”

Power plants churn out about a third of the carbon emissions in the United States, according to the EPA.