By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Environmental Protection Agency said on Tuesday that it may ease an interim deadline for states to meet tougher carbon emission standards after regulators and electric utilities complained a lack of time may destabilize electricity supplies.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told an audience of state utility regulators meeting in Washington that she was giving them a "big hint" the agency may loosen the interim targets set in its proposed rule for existing power plants, under which each state would need to show an assigned average emission reduction between 2020 and 2029.
The proposal, due to be finalized by mid-summer, is the centerpiece of the Obama administration's climate change strategy. Its Clean Power Plan envisions a 30 percent carbon emissions cut from the power sector by 2030, with each state meeting an EPA-assigned carbon reduction goal.
McCarthy said the agency did not hear much concern in public comments about the final 2030 goal, but was flooded with fears about the pace at which states and utilities would need to get there.
Janet McCabe, assistant administrator for air and radiation at the EPA, confirmed later in the day that the EPA may revisit the timeline, noting a change in the interim target "was very much on the table."
Members of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners pressed their concerns with McCarthy and McCabe in Washington on Tuesday.
Last week, St. Louis-based utility Ameren flagged concerns about the interim target and proposed ways for the EPA to achieve the same goals of its proposed rule without burdening coal-dependent states like Missouri.
The utility suggested the EPA scrap the interim targets and let states develop "individually tailored glide paths" that they can detail in reports to the EPA before 2030.
"The interim targets impede the flexibility of states to carry out EPA's objectives in a cost-effective manner while jeopardizing the reliability of the electricity supply," Ameren said.
(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Alan Crosby)