U.S. EPA chief: Carbon rules to lower consumer bills

WASHINGTON, June 12 Thu Jun 12, 2014 5:51pm EDT

WASHINGTON, June 12 (Reuters) - Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy said on Thursday that newly proposed rules to slash carbon emissions from U.S. power plants will cut electricity bills after 2030 by forcing power plants to become more efficient.

Speaking at a forum on energy efficiency in Washington, which she likened to "preaching to the choir," McCarthy took issue with critics' claims that the EPA's clean power plan will cause consumer electricity prices to skyrocket, in part by forcing older coal-fired plants to close.

The rule, subject to a 120-day comment period, will steer investment toward renewable energy and energy efficiency companies, she said.

"I think we are going to help energy efficiency and renewable energy to get the kind of private investment we know (the industry has) deserved for a very long time," McCarthy said.

The EPA's guidelines, unveiled on June 2, proposed cutting overall U.S. carbon pollution from the power sector 30 percent by 2030 from a 2005 baseline. Each state has been assigned its own target to reduce the rate at which it pumps out carbon per megawatt of energy produced.

The proposal calls on states to draw up their own plans to achieve the reduction using measures ranging from making power plants more efficient, switching from coal to natural gas, ramping up zero-carbon energy, including nuclear, and using mechanisms such as carbon trading.

McCarthy said public opinion polls taken since the rollout showed that a bipartisan majority of Americans support the federal emissions curbs and would be willing to pay for it.

A poll conducted by The Washington Post and ABC News published on June 2 found that 70 percent of respondents supported mandatory federal limits of greenhouse gas emissions for power plants.

In that survey, 57 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of independents and 79 percent of Democrats supported state-set curbs on carbon emissions.

McCarthy said the regulation would create business opportunities that would benefit "the consumers we care about and the public we serve," and turn them into "believers of what we are going to do on climate change."

Other surveys suggest the EPA regulations could be more of a problem for Democrats in November's midterm elections.

A poll published on Thursday and conducted by the National Mining Association, a lobbying group, focused on eight states that are major producers or users of coal.

It found that 55 percent of respondents were more likely to oppose a candidate for the U.S. Senate that supports the new rule.

The poll was conducted by Magellan Strategies, a firm often used by Republican candidates. Among the poll questions, it asked registered voters whether it was more important for President Barack Obama to focus on climate rules or on job growth.

Rich Nolan, NMA vice president of government affairs, said the group would use results in its message to coal communities heading into the elections. (Reporting by Valerie Volcovici, editing by Ros Krasny and G Crosse)