EPA challenges "doomsday predictions" for carbon limits

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy on Monday rolled out a new proposal to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants, challenging critics who claim the new rules will hurt the economy.

"We have never -- nor will we ever -- have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment," McCarthy said.

The "clean power plan" proposal would require the existing plants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. While the administration has already imposed carbon limits on future power plants, this is the first time such limits will be applied to existing power plants -- the single largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S.

Already, the proposal is generating opposition from some Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the proposed administrative rule change "a dagger in the heart of the American middle class."

McCarthy responded that special interest groups will "flaunt manufactured facts and scare tactics," as they did with prior environmental regulations, such as attempts to curb acid rain. In those cases, "the doomsday predictions never came true," she said.

Once again, she continued, "critics claim your energy bills will skyrocket. Well, they're wrong."

Any small, short-term change in electricity prices will be within the normal scope of price variation, she said. And for every dollar invested in reducing smooth and smog, she said, families will see $7 in direct health benefits. By 2030, electricity bills will be on average 8 percent cheaper.

The proposed rule, which will be subject to public scrutiny and comment, will provide states flexibility to meet the carbon dioxide standards. One dimension of the flexibility will be a so-called cap-and-trade system that allows for the trading of carbon credits by more efficient power plants to plants that release more pollution. The move is designed to incentivize power plants to reduce CO2 pollution faster.

"More flexibility means lower cost," McCarthy said, and "means a smooth transition to a cleaner power that doesn't leave any investment opportunities behind." The new standards, she added, "will deliver the certainty that private investment is looking for."

The guidelines build on trends already underway across the U.S. With a 2005 CO2 baseline, the industry as a whole has cut carbon dioxide pollution by 15 percent already, according U.S. Energy Information Administration statistics. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have already met or exceeded the 30 percent goal.

Recent CBS News polling shows that most Americans don't think global warming is having a serious impact now, but McCarthy made the case that the U.S. has to lead in efforts to combat it.

"Given the astronomical price that we pay for climate inaction, the most costly thing we can is nothing," she said. "I'm a little tired of people pointing to the polar vortex of a reason not to act on climate. It is exactly the opposite -- it is a wakeup call."

And while climate change is a global problem that demands a global solution, McCarthy said, "We can act today to advance the ball."

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