EPA Seeks to Reassure on Grid Reliability

SPRINGERVILLE, AZ - JUNE 09: Power lines are seen as an out-of-control wildfire threatens the electrical grid in the area on June 9, 2011 in Springerville, Arizona. The Wallow Fire is threatening transmission lines that provide power to hundreds of thousands of customers in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The fire, covering over 600 square miles, has forced thousands to evacuate.  (National Journal)

HOUSTON — Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy sought to assure energy executives on Thursday that EPA won't shut off the lights in the name of battling climate change.

McCarthy, in a speech before a big energy conference here, said EPA's upcoming rule to set carbon-emissions standards for power plants will cut pollution without jeopardizing supplies.

"EPA is not going to threaten energy reliability," McCarthy said at the IHS CERAWeek conference, calling it a priority.

EPA plans to issue draft climate-change regulations for the nation's existing power plants in June.

McCarthy said EPA's goal is to help spur a cleaner power system while recognizing the important role of fossil fuels.

"Conventional fuels like coal and natural gas are going to play a critical role in a diverse U.S. energy mix for years to come. This rule will not change that. It will recognize that," she said.

Agency critics have argued that the rules, combined with other EPA pollution mandates, will effectively force power companies to retire enough coal-fired power plants that power reliability will be jeopardized.

They have pointed to the heavy energy demand when the invading polar vortex sent temperatures plunging in January.

But McCarthy said the agency has been conducting extensive outreach with other federal agencies as well as the power industry.

Cheryl LaFleur, the acting chairwoman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, told National Journal that she has met with McCarthy about the power-plant rule and grid reliability.

"It is something I know she is ... quite committed to," LaFleur said of grid reliability.

"It will require a lot of coordination as the rule gets finalized and implemented to understand its impact on the grid," she added.

McCarthy, in a speech Thursday, made a broad pitch for the EPA rules and the White House climate agenda, urging the audience to "seize this as an economic opportunity to drive a healthy, sustainable, and more prosperous future for all of us."

She said that for decades the Clean Air Act has successfully driven down pollution without stifling economic growth, and that there's no reason to believe that can't continue with climate regulations.

McCarthy said the rules would provide states with plenty of flexibility.