By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, under pressure from Republicans and big utilities, said on Monday it had extended a deadline by two months on draft rules that would for the first time limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
The EPA said it had moved the date for proposing the rule from July 26 to September 30 after listening to businesses and states that will have to implement the regulation.
The rule, known as a performance standard, would limit the amount of carbon dioxide that U.S. power plants may emit.
The move was expected as the EPA has taken on its most ambitious agenda in years. Republicans in Congress and big utilities have complained the rules could cost jobs and raise energy prices.
The EPA said in a release that the "stakeholders have presented the agency with important input which deserves to be fully considered."
The deadline for final standards remains May 16, 2012, the EPA said.
Ahead of next year's elections, Republicans, and some Democrats from energy-intensive states, have been trying to slow or stop the EPA from regulating several kinds of air pollution.
But President Barack Obama has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions about 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. Rolling out EPA rules on emissions from smokestacks and tailpipes has been the administration's main strategy to control pollution after a comprehensive energy bill failed in the Senate last year.
Franz Litz, a senior fellow at World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank, said the delay was more about getting the rule right than bowing to pressure from business and Republicans.
The EPA is expected to give states and companies a wide range of options for compliance, including through regional cap-and-trade programs on emissions, or switching from coal to natural gas and renewable power such as wind and solar.
Electricity generators that burn a lot of coal, such as American Electric Power and Southern Co, would have to figure out how to cut their emissions.
The EPA would not immediately say whether the deadline for a proposed rule on greenhouse gas emissions from oil refineries, set for December, would also be delayed.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Dale Hudson)