WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's chief said on Monday that new carbon pollution standards due in June will be flexible enough for all states to meet but will be environmentally stringent and federally enforceable.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy gave her first remarks since the agency sent its proposed rule, which aims to curb carbon emissions from more than 1,000 existing power plants in the United States, to the White House's Office of Management and Budget for review.
The rule, a centerpiece of President Barack Obama's second-term climate change strategy, is on track to be released in June, kicking off a months-long public comment process.
Without providing details on the highly anticipated rule, McCarthy said the proposal targeting the largest source of domestic carbon emissions would have regulatory teeth.
"It is not going to be an aspirational goal," McCarthy said at a conference held by the Bipartisan Policy Center and the National Association of Regulator Utility Commissioners.
Opponents of EPA curbs on carbon pollution, including Republican lawmakers and Democrats representing states that rely on coal, have for months accused the EPA of a "war on coal" as they anticipate release of the power plant rule.
McCarthy said the regulations will give states the flexibility to meet federal guidance in various ways, so long as the result is significant cuts to emissions, and that the standard will recognize the different economic and regional differences between states
"That doesn't mean it is going to be so flexible that I won't be able to rely on this as a federally enforceable rule to deliver carbon pollution reductions at the level that our guidance indicates," she added.
Utility commissioner association President Colette Honorable, who spoke on the same panel as McCarthy, urged the agency to recognize the work many states have already done to reduce carbon emissions.
Last November, the association unanimously approved a resolution that urged the EPA to give states enough flexibility to meet the future regulations in their own ways.
"We aren't saying let everything count. We are saying, 'EPA, let's not reinvent the wheel here,'" Honorable said, adding there are many initiatives being carried out on the state level that should be recognized by the agency.
McCarthy said the challenge for the agency is trying to account for the fact that some states do not have access to easy emission reductions and may need more time while adhering to the parameters of the Clean Air Act, which does not give "unbridled flexibility."
"The EPA is not issuing its own vision of what the energy world looks like. We are looking at what the energy world is," she said.
Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Jonathan Oatis