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Across US, opponents and supporters call power-plant pollution rules too much or too little

Jimmy Hall, of Mill Creek, Ky., wears a button advocating for the environment as he attends a rally outside an Environmental Protection Agency hearing, Tuesday, July 29, 2014, in Atlanta. Utility and coal companies are expected to argue Tuesday against proposals from the Obama administration that would force a 30 percent cut in carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2030 from 2005 levels. The EPA is holding three public hearings on the proposal in Atlanta, Denver and Washington. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

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Jimmy Hall, of Mill Creek, Ky., wears a button advocating for the environment as he attends a rally outside an Environmental Protection Agency hearing, Tuesday, July 29, 2014, in Atlanta. Utility and coal companies are expected to argue Tuesday against proposals from the Obama administration that would force a 30 percent cut in carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2030 from 2005 levels. The EPA is holding three public hearings on the proposal in Atlanta, Denver and Washington. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

DENVER - Hundreds of people across the country lined up Tuesday to tell the Environmental Protection Agency that its new rules for power-plant pollution either go too far or not far enough.

The agency is holding hearings this week in Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh and Washington on President Barack Obama's plan to cut carbon-dioxide emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, with 2005 levels as the starting point. The rules are intended to curb global warming.

Coal mines, electric utilities, labour unions, environmental groups, renewable energy companies, government agencies, religious and civil rights organizations and others sent representatives to the hearings.

John Kinkaid, a Moffat County, Colorado, commissioner, told the EPA in Denver that the rules would devastate the economy in his area, home to a major power plant.

"Energy is the lifeblood of our economy," he said. "Moffat County deserves better than to be turned into another Detroit, Michigan."

Retired coal miner Stanley Sturgill of Harlan County, Kentucky, travelled to Denver to tell the EPA that coal-fired plants are crippling his health and the public's. He suffers from black lung and other respiratory diseases, Sturgill said.

"The rule does not do nearly enough to protect the health of the front-line communities," he said. "We're dying, literally dying, for you to help us."

In Atlanta, Jim Doyle, president of Business Forward and a former Commerce Department official in the Clinton administration, said the benefits of fighting climate change outweigh the potential costs of the proposal, pointing out that a severe storm that shuts down an auto manufacturer in the Southeast costs more than $1 million an hour.

"Over the past four years, American factories have been disrupted by typhoons in Thailand, hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, droughts in Texas, tornadoes in Kentucky, falling water levels across the Great Lakes and flooding in the Northeast," he said.

Meanwhile, elected regulators, business interests and labour officials at the hearings said the proposed rules could raise electricity prices and cause job losses without significantly curtailing global carbon emissions at a time when utilities are already switching to natural gas as it has become cheaper. As a result, energy companies have been sending more coal than ever overseas to meet rising demand.

The EPA expects 1,600 people to speak in the four cities and has already received more than 300,000 written comments, which will be accepted until Oct. 16.

The Denver meetings are the only ones being held in the West, where the topic of air pollution traditionally sets off a loud debate over environmental values and economic vitality. Three of the top 10 coal-producing states are in the West — Wyoming, Montana and Colorado. Wyoming is No. 1, producing nearly 40 per cent of the U.S. total and more than three times as much as West Virginia, the No. 2 state, according to the National Mining Association.

States would have wide latitude in choosing how to meet the administration's goals. That leaves an uncertain fate for some of the West's large coal-fired power plants, including Montana's 2,100-megawatt Colstrip plant.

Montana's Democratic governor, Steve Bullock, has said at least some of Colstrip's four generating units could continue to operate if the state can achieve emissions reductions in other areas.

Four power plants on tribal land in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah will be dealt with under a separate proposal yet to be announced.

Even without the new rules, coal plants face increasing pressure from regulators to rein in other forms of pollution. Federal officials said Monday that Arizona's Navajo Generating Station will produce one-third less energy by 2020 and could close by 2044 under a rule aimed at reducing haze-causing nitrogen oxide pollution.

EPA technical experts will listen to the comments, and a transcript will go into the EPA record, agency spokeswoman Lisa McClain-Vanderpool said. The EPA plans to release the final rules next year.

The Atlanta, Denver and Washington hearings continue Wednesday. The Pittsburgh hearings will be held Thursday and Friday.

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Online:

Guidelines to submit written comments to the EPA: http://tinyurl.com/qetmzaj

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Henry reported from Atlanta. AP writers Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, and Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona, contributed to this report.

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