Gov. Nikki Haley and officials from South Carolina's electric cooperatives Wednesday blasted a proposed federal mandate to reduce carbon emissions, saying it would stifle economic growth and cause power rates to soar in the state.

"This is exactly what we don't need," the governor said after addressing a gathering of the S.C. Electric Cooperatives at Wild Dunes Resort on the Isle of Palms. "This is exactly what hurts us. You can't mandate utility companies which, in turn, raises the cost of power. That's what's going to keep jobs away. That's what's going to keep companies away." She added that officials in Washington "stay out of the way."

"We need to be able to do our jobs and continue to recruit companies and recruit jobs without additional mandates," Haley said.

Under the Environmental Protection Agency's proposal, power plants in South Carolina would have to cut carbon dioxide emissions by more than half by 2030.

The EPA believes the new limits would help clean the air and slow climate change, especially rising sea levels.

State-owned utility Santee Cooper and investor-owned power provider S.C. Electric & Gas Co. railed against the new restrictions earlier this week. On Wednesday, it was the electric co-ops' turn to vent.

Local, state and national co-op leaders oppose the proposed limits because they say the costs will be passed down to rural co-op customers, many of whom already live close to poverty.

"If the EPA gets all of their rules passed, that could cause our electric rates to go up as much as 50 percent in South Carolina," said Berkeley Electric Cooperative CEO Dwayne Cartwright. "I have members out there who can't afford that type of increase, and I have to protect them while still ensuring that we have not only reliability but affordability."

Mike Couick, CEO of the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, said complying with the new rule, if it stands, won't be cheap.

If all the electric cooperatives replaced all the coal-fired electricity they distribute with half from natural gas-fired power plants and half from nuclear reactors, the cost to co-op members would go up more than 50 percent, Couick said.

About 26 percent of the power generated in the Palmetto State comes from coal-fired power plants. About 57 percent is generated by nuclear units. The rest comes from natural gas and other sources.

Couick said President Barack Obama and the EPA need to consider the effects on South Carolina, where many members of rural electric cooperatives, compared to other utilities serving the state, are 50 percent more likely to live below the poverty level.

The co-ops serve more than 1.5 million state residents in all 46 counties.

The national organization representing more than 900 electric co-ops and the 42 million people they serve also opposes the new emission limits.

"New EPA regulations that add to the price of electricity have serious consequences for our communities, jobs and families," said Jo Ann Emerson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. "It's very disappointing and disturbing that the EPA proposed a regulation that goes further than the Clean Air Act allows by taking an 'outside the fence' approach to setting the emissions-reduction requirements that states must accomplish.

"America's electric cooperatives are naturally concerned that these regulations will increase electricity prices and force power plant shutdowns, thereby harming the economy and jobs of hard-working Americans," Emerson said.

State Attorney General Alan Wilson is reviewing the 645-page federal proposal but has not issued a response. On Monday, he said he is concerned what the cost to the state will be and fears significantly higher electric bills if the EPA rule is adopted.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or