EPA chief defends emissions listening tour

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday defended a “listening tour” on emissions regulations that critics say deliberately skipped major coal-producing states.

“We have conducted what I think is probably the most vigorous outreach and robust, comprehensive outreach program that you can imagine,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said.

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She said the outreach efforts came “well in advance of even putting any pen to paper on a [regulatory] proposal, which is not due until next June.”

Republicans are battling the EPA's efforts to limit emissions from existing power plants, and have assailed the agency for bypassing major coal states like Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio during an 11-city "listening tour" on the regulations.

Critics said that those omissions indicate that the agency isn’t looking to hear from people who will be most affected by the rules.

The controversial regulations represent the administration's second major effort to combat carbon pollution from power plants, which are the largest concentrated source of emissions. Earlier this year, the EPA issued draft rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions from new coal and gas plants.

Republicans say the emissions rules, which President Obama argues are needed to combat climate change, are part of a "war on coal" that will cost the country jobs.

Speaking at the Center for American Progress, McCarthy said the new rules, which are scheduled to be proposed next summer, will “put us really on a path for domestic energy, clean energy generation and innovation.”

She said states will be leading the charge to combat air pollution.

“We are going to be very flexible in the implementation of this standard,” she said.

“We’re going to open that up and provide lots of opportunity in the proposal for states to continue to churn, including aligning themselves regionally.”

The upcoming regulations will require states to submit plans to the government to implement the emissions limits.

If states do not issue their plans, the federal government will step in.

“It is not the intent of the federal government to take over their duties, but if they don’t perform as the Clean Air Act requires them to, we will be forced to do that,” McCarthy said.