WASHINGTON - California should have little trouble meeting the Obama administration's new pollution-reduction goals for the nation's existing power plants, officials said Monday.
California has long been cleaning up its air and increasing energy efficiency, well ahead of Uncle Sam, said Stanley Young, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board.
"We believe that the proposed regulation supports and confirms the programs that we already have in place. We feel that we are ahead of the curve as we usually are, and we will continue on our trajectory," he said in a telephone interview. "We are very confident that we will be able to meet this."
Environmentalists also weren't worried about California doing its part to meet the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed emissions reductions of 30 percent from existing power plants nationwide by 2030 as compared to 2005 levels. It would be up to states to figure out how to meet the pollution targets.
"We are well on our way but we're going to have to continue to make the steady progress we already have," said Ann Notthoff, California advocacy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco. "California's program is a good example of how you can cut pollution and have strong economic growth at the same time."
The EPA said California power plants in 2012 emitted 698 pounds of carbon per megawatt hour -- a commonly used measurement in the electricity industry. If Monday's regulations are finalized as written, power plants currently in use would have to cut that to 537 pounds per megawatt hour.
Some steps the California state Legislature has taken in recent years:
-- Capping emissions and lowering the caps every year through 2020.
-- Requiring 33 percent of the electricity used statewide to come from wind, solar, geothermal or some other renewable resource, also by 2020.
-- Enacting a tough "cap-and-trade" system to discourage utilities from buying power from polluted sources.
-- Passing a law in 2006 barring utilities from signing long-term contracts with power plants that spew more pollution than a typical natural gas facility.
California also has no coal-burning power plants, which spew the most pollution. There are 895 plants in the state, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
California Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has long urged the EPA to regulate emissions from existing power plants. New power plants are already required to be cleaner.
On Monday, she praised the proposal, saying it would improve public health, save lives and create jobs.
"America will finally lead on a path to averting the most calamitous impacts of climate change -- such as sea level rise, dangerous heat waves, and economic disruption," she said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., encouraged other states to follow California's lead. Existing power plants, she said, "account for nearly 40 percent of U.S. emissions and need to be regulated."
Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, welcomed the possibility for greater regional cooperation and noted that last year's climate agreement between California, Oregon, Washington and the Canadian province of British Columbia would complement the federal effort. The Pacific Coast Climate and Energy agreement calls on the four jurisdictions to coordinate their climate and energy policies and come up with ways to increase the use of clean energy throughout the region.
Complying with the regulations would be harder for many Midwestern and southern states, which have a number of coal-burning plants.
The rule, which will likely spark legal challenges, isn't scheduled to take effect for at least two more years.
Republicans and powerful business groups like the U.S. Chambers of Commerce blasted the proposal.
"The president's plan is nuts," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "Americans are still asking, 'Where are the jobs?' and here he is proposing rules to ship jobs overseas for years to come. Americans are already paying more for everything and here he is condemning them to higher bills and lower incomes long after he leaves office."