WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Monday it would slow a phase-in of new limits on carbon dioxide from coal and other heavy industry plants to ease concerns about the impact on the economy.
The Obama administration has pushed the EPA to begin regulating gases blamed for warming the planet in an effort to force polluters to support a climate change bill that is stalled in Congress.
Slowing down the rules could give Congress more time to develop a legislative answer to reducing carbon pollution and avoid a lengthy legal battle over whether the agency has the authority to regulate the emissions.
In September, the EPA said it would require coal plants and refineries and other heavy industry facilities emitting more than 25,000 tons a year of greenhouse gases to obtain permits demonstrating they were using the best technology available to reduce emissions blamed for warming the planet.
The agency expects to issue the new rules at the end of next month.
“EPA is considering raising that threshold substantially to reflect input provided during the public comment process,” the agency said in a statement.
The EPA was responding to a letter sent last week by Senator Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat from coal-rich West Virginia, and senators from other energy states that expressed concerns about the impact on U.S. workers and businesses owners of EPA rules that would cut output of the gases from the heavy industry plants.
On Monday, Rockefeller said EPA’s overture was “good progress.”
Nonetheless, he said he would craft legislation to “provide Congress the space it needs” to consider a “workable” climate policy that “will protect jobs and stimulate the economy.”
Sources on Capitol Hill were anticipating Rockefeller could introduce a bill imposing a temporary pause, possibly two or three years, for EPA to issue carbon emission-reduction regulations.
“EPA actions in this area would have enormous implications on clean coal state economies and these issues need to be handled carefully and appropriately dealt with by the Congress, not in isolation by a federal environmental agency,” Rockefeller said in a statement.
Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, wants to permanently bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. An aide said she could demand a vote on her bill in mid-March.
EPA administrator Lisa Jackson did not say how much the threshold might be raised. But she expected that EPA would not put any of the new carbon reduction rules in place before 2011.
The agency does not intend to subject smaller plants to permitting any sooner than 2016, she said.
Several states had been concerned EPA was moving too fast. Last month California, the most populous U.S. state, urged the EPA to slow down implementation of the rules, saying they could hurt a plans to transform its energy system to run more on renewable energy like solar power.
Other states had complained moving quickly could overwhelm their permit offices.
Several environmental groups said the EPA move would create a reasonable timeline to cut emissions. “Just as it has with other pollutants for 40 years, EPA has now made crystal clear that it will address global warming pollution in a way that benefits both our economy and our environment,” said Carl Pope, the head of the Sierra Club.
Editing by Marguerita Choy