Terry McAuliffe (D) on Sept. 5 in Richmond. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Terry McAuliffe said Tuesday that he supports new Environmental Protection Agency rules on carbon emissions, taking a clear stance for the first time on an issue that has become a key flashpoint in the Virginia governor’s race.

The EPA unveiled guidelines two weeks ago that would limit the amount of carbon that future coal- and gas-fired plants can emit into the atmosphere, likely making it difficult for any new coal-powered plants to be built. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, the Republican nominee for governor, has said the rules would be devastating to Virginia’s coal industry, and has accused McAuliffe (D) of being an accomplice to the Obama administration’s alleged “war on coal.”

McAuliffe has repeatedly declined to take a position on the subject, first saying he was waiting for the guidelines to be released and then, once they were, stating that he needed time to review them.

Asked about the issue again Tuesday during a tour of the Tyson’s Corner technology firm MicroTech, McAuliffe initially avoided a clear position again, saying: “I think we have to look at when the permits [for new coal plants] come in and look at how it applies and what the regulations are.”

When a reporter pressed McAuliffe on whether he supports the guidelines “as they are written right now,” McAuliffe responded: “I do, you bet. What I’ve looked at, I support what we need to do to obviously protect our air and our water.”

During his 2009 campaign for governor, McAuliffe said he did not want to see another coal-fired plant built in Virginia. On Tuesday, he noted that there are no requests pending to build a new coal plant. “If one comes in under our administration, we’ll sit down at that time,” McAuliffe said.

Cuccinelli’s campaign said McAuliffe had been “deliberately misleading Virginia voters” by suggesting he supported the coal industry.

“How is it even possible that a person running to be Virginia’s chief executive would come out in support of a policy that will put our Commonwealth at a competitive disadvantage and put men and women – particularly in Southwest Virginia – out of work?” Cuccinelli asked in a campaign statement. “As I have said repeatedly in recent months, the war on coal is a war on Virginia’s poor and a war on competitiveness for Virginia.”

The League of Conservation Voters said it took McAuliffe’s position as a welcome sign.

”We’ve said all along that Terry McAuliffe is a leader on climate and clean energy, and today he’s showing that leadership,” said LCV spokesman Jeff Gohringer. “It’s hardly surprising he would embrace the publicly popular positions that we need to address climate change and invest in clean energy — positions that [Timothy M. Kaine (D)] rode to victory in the Senate race last year.”