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States wary of EPA’s promise of ‘flexibility’ on carbon dioxide limits

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Michael Bastasch Contributor
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Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy promised to give states flexibility when reducing carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, a key part of President Obama’s climate plan. However, states doubt the EPA will be so generous.

“We are skeptical that this is anything more than window dressing,” Brian Gottstein, spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

On Monday, McCarthy told an audience at the liberal Center for American Progress that the EPA will be “really flexible on the implementation” of carbon dioxide emissions limits for existing power plants, which the agency is supposed to do in coordination with the states.

“Given the EPA’s history in such areas, states like Oklahoma remain skeptical of any assurances from the EPA that states will be given flexibility in meeting new emission standards for power plants,” Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt told TheDCNF in a statement.

Coal-reliant states, including Oklahoma and Virginia, have found that the agency has been less flexible with states when implementing past air quality regulations. States worry that this could be yet another avenue for the federal agencies to strip them of their ability to set environmental standards.

“There’s a great deal of frustration among the states with the EPA’s attitude that ignores the proper role of the states in implementing environmental policy and regulations,” Pruitt said. “In many instances, including the Regional Haze rule and proposed rule for greenhouse gases, the EPA has attempted to expand its authority with a mind set that states are merely a vessel to implement whatever regulations the Administration sees fit, regardless of the wisdom, cost or efficiency of such measures.”

EPA’s Regional Haze program requires states to develop plans to improve air visibility over national parks and monuments which can be impaired by a wide variety of sources, like dust and soot. This program is purely for aesthetics and has nothing to do with public health.

However, the EPA has increasingly been using its Regional Haze authority to deny state implementation plans and replace them with federal ones. The agency has also the haze issue to impose costly requirements on coal-fired power plants in the Western U.S. this has led some states to question McCarthy’s commitment to state autonomy when setting carbon emissions limits.

“When push comes to shove, we are doubtful the administration will allow any real flexibility from the states,” Gottstein added. “However, we will be happy to be proven wrong.”

The EPA’s proposed rules for new power plants would set strict carbon emissions limits that would effectively outlaw the construction of new coal-fired power plants, unless they use carbon capture and sequestration technology — which isn’t commercially available. Natural gas-fired power plants will be the only major fossil fuel source able to comply with the EPA’s rule.

The agency is set to release rules for existing power plants in June 2014. McCarthy promised states “flexibility” with these new rules on older power plants.

“EPA next June will propose new standards that will also provide significant flexibility to the states that will protect public health from carbon pollution from existing power plants,” McCarthy said on Monday at an event at the liberal Center for American Progress.

However, nine east coast states are lobbying the EPA to allow states the ability to use cap-and-trade systems to reduce carbon emissions. Others have called for the agency to allow states to impose a carbon tax to reduce emissions.

Nine east coast states that make up the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative urged the EPA to allow states “to develop market-based greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction programs designed to work for their region(s).”

Earlier this year at an EPA field hearing in Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution scholar Adele Morris urged the agency to give states a menu of options to choose from when reducing carbon emissions, including a carbon tax.

“EPA could … say, ‘well, states, if you want to do an excise tax on carbon, here’s the price point that EPA views as equivalent to those other measures,’” Morris told the Hill newspaper.

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