EPA Head Says Significant Changes Possible in Carbon Plan

The Obama administration will revise its proposal to fight climate change in the next year if individual states show they can’t meet the targets, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency said.

Gina McCarthy, administrator of the agency that wrote the proposal issued yesterday, said she expects “significant” revisions in the state emission goals before a final rule is issued next year.

“I put out a proposal that I believe will allow everybody to get at a table and roll their sleeves up,” McCarthy told Bloomberg reporters and editors today in Washington. The agency now anticipates “a lot of give and take with the states.”

In the boldest single effort by the U.S. to tackle climate change, President Barack Obama’s administration proposed state-by-state targets to be achieved by 2030 that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by an average 17 percent from current levels.

Once the standards are finalized next June, the individual states must come up with plans for how to make those cuts. They can do so by mixing and matching policies such as running more natural gas instead of coal or pursuing energy efficiency.

McCarthy said the agency made changes when developing its rules on mercury pollution in 2011 after utilities complained, and, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we made significant” revisions to the carbon proposal.

Texas Cuts

States face wide variations in the cuts demanded of them under this plan. Texas alone will account for a quarter of the total U.S. reductions, with a cut of 39 percent over the next 15 years if the EPA’s proposed rule is adopted. Kentucky and other coal-dependent states like West Virginia and North Dakota face requirements of less than half that.

Once achieved, the plan would mean the U.S. had cut emissions from power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels, according to an administration fact sheet released yesterday.

McCarthy today said she regretted that 30 percent was highlighted as a target, saying it’s not a goal of the plan but an estimate of what the EPA thinks can be achieved.

“There’s been some confusion about 30 percent,” she said. It’s “really a summary conclusion of what the pollution reduction opportunities are” and is not a goal, she said.

The EPA will measure the progress of the states in meeting their targets starting in 2020, which means states will have to begin rejiggering their energy mix by then, or face steeper cuts later in the decade, she said.

‘Significantly Lower’

“It means out of the gate, states will really have to make some changes,” she said. “That means they’re going to have to look for early reduction opportunities or else in the end they’re going to have to get significantly lower than their requirement by the time they start getting towards 2030.”

The EPA’s analysis found emissions could be cut 26 percent by 2020 as some states embrace the changes and move quickly in response to the EPA plan.

How states reach their targets is up to them. McCarthy noted that nuclear power is a carbon-free fuel that could help achieve the reductions, and said carbon-capture technology for coal plants “is going to be important for us domestically.”

Coal will remain a source for generating electricity and she said will account for 30 percent to 31 percent by 2030, down from about 39 percent last year.

“This is not about getting coal out of the system. There’s still going to be there in high quantities,” McCarthy said. “But they’re going to be much more efficient. And they’re going to be mixed with a lot more low- and no-carbon” fuel, she said.

McCarthy said she wouldn’t be surprised if more states enter cap-and-trade arrangements to meet the reduction targets.

In the interview, she promoted energy efficiency at power stations, saying such steps are “low hanging fruit” that is cost-effective and “just keeps giving and giving.”