Republican ex-EPA chiefs voice support for new carbon rules

WASHINGTON, June 18 Wed Jun 18, 2014 3:22pm EDT

WASHINGTON, June 18 (Reuters) - Rising public support for action on climate change bodes well for federal regulations announced this month to limit pollution from power plants, four Republican former chiefs of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Wednesday.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a subcommittee chairman on the Senate Environment and Public Works panel, arranged for the officials to address a sharply divided committee that frequently clashes over the existence and causes of climate change.

"We all feel strongly that something should be done (about climate change) and we should get on with this," said William Ruckelshaus, the first EPA chief, who served under EPA founder, President Richard Nixon, and again under Ronald Reagan.

He told reporters after the hearing that Republican lawmakers who have obstructed climate legislation in the past will inevitably need to respond to growing demand from the public for limits on pollution.

Ruckelshaus pointed to polling - the latest by the Wall Street Journal/NBC News - showing a majority of Americans support the EPA's crackdown on carbon emissions.

"The poll is indicative of what seems to be a shift in public opinion on this, and once that turns into a demand for action, something will happen," he said.

Ruckelshaus, Christine Todd Whitman, William Reilly and Lee Thomas wrote an op-ed in the New York Times in 2013 urging the United States to take action to cut carbon emissions rather than just dealing with the impacts of climate change.

At the hearing, they faced questions from Republican senators who have accused the EPA of overreach. In the audience were many coal miners bused in from Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky by coal companies Murray Energy Corp and Arch Coal Inc.

Whitman said that despite the EPA having been repeatedly sued during her time at the helm, companies required to meet new efficiency standards were often able to exceed their mandates.

She noted appliance maker Carrier, which ramped up the efficiency of its air conditioners at the EPA's behest: "Not only did we not see a loss in jobs, or loss in dollars, we saw this whole industry achieve new levels that we didn't think were possible."

The officials said EPA's latest proposal, to slash power sector emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, was a reasonable starting point.

The plan was entered in the Federal Register on Wednesday, kicking off a four-month comment period.

One of the miners attending the hearing, Monty Baker, told Reuters the hearing was less contentious than what he sees in television advertising, and that he learned a lot from both sides.

Baker, a manager at one of Murray Energy's mines in Marshall County, Ohio, wanted to attend because he worries EPA rules may not "take into account some of the towns that will be gone" if the pollution crackdown closes coal mines: "We need both sides to act together." (Editing by Ros Krasny and Eric Walsh)

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