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EPA chief questioned as lawmakers dissect carbon rule

Joshua Roberts | Reuters
Joshua Roberts | Reuters
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy announces steps under the Clean Air Act to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants during a news conference in Washington June 2, 2014.
By Valerie Volcovici, Reuters

WASHINGTON — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy will field questions from lawmakers Wednesday about the agency’s plan to slash carbon pollution from power plants, even as industry groups seek to derail the proposal.

McCarthy will testify before the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, where she will discuss the EPA’s first mandatory cuts on carbon in the power sector, the largest source of domestic emissions.

The Senate panel is deeply divided between some of the biggest backers of carbon limits and others who question whether humans contribute to climate change.

The hearing takes place a week before the EPA holds a series of public meetings on its carbon plan in Denver, Pittsburgh, Washington and Atlanta.

Pro-energy groups aired a number of concerns in a letter sent to McCarthy on Tuesday.

The Partnership for a Better Energy Future, a coalition of some of 163 business organizations formed in January to lobby against the EPA’s proposal, said the proposal would be too disruptive to the U.S. energy system and should be dumped.

The group also telegraphed potential legal action, arguing the EPA had overstepped the bounds of the Clean Air Act to draft its complex rule.

“Even more fundamentally, the proposal is based on a flawed interpretation of the Clean Air Act. We therefore urge EPA to go back to the drawing board on this rule,” the groups wrote.

The rule sets the country’s power sector on a course to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by an average of 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

To achieve that overarching goal, the EPA set individualized state targets to reduce the carbon intensity of electricity production below 2012 levels by 2030.

McCarthy is expected to tell senators the agency has set targets tailored to each state’s needs and capabilities and has provided a reasonable amount of time to meet them.

McCarthy is also likely to highlight the hundreds of public meetings the EPA held before the rule was released, and that the proposal reflects that input.

Several states, such as Washington, that have a relatively clean energy mix, will need to achieve an intensity reduction by 72 percent while coal intensive Kentucky gets an 18 percent goal.

Critics of the EPA plan are likely to hone in on the opaque process used to set the formulas for each state, the Partnership told reporters Tuesday.

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