By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Power plants already in operation in the United States will not be required to be retrofitted with equipment to capture carbon emissions, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency said on Monday.
Agency chief Gina McCarthy addressed concerns raised after the EPA on Friday announced the first regulations setting strict limits on the amount of carbon pollution that can be generated by any newly built plant.
Coal and utility industry groups denounced the rules, and complained that the agency was forcing the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which they say is unproven and expensive.
Some companies expressed fears that EPA rules expected to be announced by June 2014 would call for conventional coal plants already in operation to be retrofitted with CCS technology.
"It (CCS) is not seen, at least at this stage, as an add-on that could be used to put on an existing conventional coal facility," McCarthy told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
She said CCS technology is only an effective technology when it is designed as part of a new plant.
McCarthy said the EPA is engaging with states, industry and other groups about how best to establish federal emissions standards for nation's existing fleet of more than 1,000 power plants.
The EPA will rely on states to implement their own plans to meet federal emissions standards that take into account their specific challenges, existing programs and future development plans, she said.
The existing plants rule will focus on "energy efficiency, energy demand, about keeping energy costs low," McCarthy said. "Each state can look at the state of their facilities, and what sorts of reductions can be achieved."
McCarthy rebuffed suggestions by lawmakers from coal-dependent states and coal companies that the EPA was waging a "war on coal."
She said the current economics of coal and natural gas have made coal uncompetitive with gas in recent years and that the EPA regulations would actually give coal a lifeline.
"Coal, while it will still be a significant part of the energy mix because of existing (plants), is not really the fuel of choice right now in the market," she said.
"We are not suggesting that (CCS) doesn't add costs to coal but if you are looking at coal being a viable fuel in the future over the next decades... there must be a path forward."
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)