EPA chief says to expect 'changes' in final climate rule

There will be "changes" made in the Obama administration's proposal to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants, according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyGlobal climate pact may bump into Senate roadblock House Dems push EPA on fracking study Watchdog: EPA was too slow to act on Flint MORE.

"People who know me well enough know there are going to be changes between proposal and final because we listen," McCarthy said on Thursday.

Since unveiling the controversial regulation, the administration has put all hands on deck to pitch the new standards to lawmakers, state officials, environmentalists, coal advocates, utilities and more.

While McCarthy says the feedback has been "positive," and she is "excited" to see the end result, there has been relentless pushback from Republicans and industry types worried that the rule will put a strain on reliability, forcing energy sources offline.

"My goal is to make sure many of the states stand up as early as possible and say I can make this work for me, and my economy, and my energy sector," McCarthy said when asked about feedback at a Washington, D.C., event.

The problem the EPA is facing, she said, is how to explain to states the "difference between regulating under this [Clean Air Act] section and what Congress might do to adopt a cap-and-trade system."

From the "unprecedented" amount of outreach, meetings and phone calls the EPA has held, and will continue to hold even after the comment period closes, concerns have been raised over whether or not states that took "early action" to clean up pollution will be credited for it.

"Many states who have wanted us to recognize actions that have happened earlier and we are looking at that and we are taking those comments very seriously," she said.

But there are limitations and the rule is not designed to work like a cap-and-trade program, which rewards those who took steps to mitigate emissions before regulations were implemented.

"This is not about carbon offsets," she said. "It is about about applying the Clean Air Act in way that will be legally defensible but still achieve the reductions."

Opponents of the rule don't agree, and lawsuits against the EPA's rule for existing and future power plants have already sprung up.

"I think there are some significant missteps the EPA has taken in both the new and existing source rules that I think are legal flaws that they did not take into account," said Katie Sweeney, senior vice president of legal affairs for the National Mining Association (NMA).

Sweeney said she is "moderating optimistic" legal challenges the organization has joined against the rules will be successful, given the EPA's favorable track record with the courts.

Sweeney also said she doesn't believe McCarthy's statement that the final rule will change, either to address the coal industry's worries or even the woes of states that may be otherwise supportive of the rule.

"With all this rush it seems like they are unlikely to change the direction they are going in, but we would be happy if they did," she said, adding that the NMA would like to see no carbon capture requirement.

The EPA argues that the technology available to utilities and fossil-fuel power plants is something states should harness and use to make progress, rather than stay "mediocre."

"I'm not sure we could have done this five or 10 years ago, not because of public opinion, but because we did not have choices we have today," she said, noting the falling price of solar and new efficiency programs.

"This is really all about where states are today, where facilities are, what's available to them, and how far they can move forward," she said.

It comes down to whether or not the carbon pollution standards are "fair," McCarthy told reporters.

Some are saying "we are being asked to do too much," others that "someone is not being asked to do enough."

"We we'll take a look at these comments and we think there are some adjustments that could be made," she said.

The EPA recently extended the public comment period for the rule, which is expected to cut pollution from existing fossil fuel plants 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels.

People will now have until Dec. 1, and the EPA said it is working hard to finalize the rule by June of next year.