Updated: July 29, 2014 at 10:05 pm
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 percent by 2030, with 2005 levels as the starting point. The rules are intended to curb global warming.
Coal mines, electric utilities, labor unions, environmental groups, renewable-energy companies, government agencies, religious and civil rights organizations and others sent representatives to the hearings.
Some endorsed the proposals, while others said they were a timid response to a huge problem or an unwarranted attack on the coal industry and its employees.
The proposal likely will be considered in discussions over whether to decommission the Martin Drake Power Plant. The Colorado Springs City Council, in its role as the Colorado Springs Utilities Board, is considering a number of options on when to decommission the downtown coal-fired plant.
The 12 options being considered include immediate closure to keeping the plant running for 30 years. The Utilities board is expected to set a timeline for closure at its August board meeting.
The Clean Power Plan, released in June by the Environmental Protection Agency, would require the country's power plants to reduce carbon emission 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels and is believed by environmentalists to be a major step by the White House to fight climate change.
Utilities is installing $131 million in scrubber technology at Drake that aims to help the power plant meet existing pollution standards. Utilities officials have projected that electric base rates could go up each year for the next five years to pay for the scrubber project at Drake and at the Nixon coal-fired plant.
The proposed EPA rules could require upgrades to the downtown Drake plant or force Colorado Springs Utilities to build some other power source to replace the plant. Either way, the new emission standards could mean higher rates to cover the costs of construction, Colorado Springs city council member Andy Pico, has said. The proposed rules target the country's 983 aging coal-fired plants. Drake uses three turbines built in 1962, 1968 and 1974. It will cost an estimated $5.2 billion in capital costs, fixed operating costs and ongoing maintenance to keep Drake running until 2033.
Those costs, however, do not consider what it would take to make changes to the system required under the proposed Clean Power Plan.
John Kinkaid, a Moffat County commissioner, told the EPA in Denver Tuesday that the rules would devastate 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, traveled to Denver to tell the EPA that coal-fired plants are crippling his health and the public's. Sturgill said he suffers from black lung and other respiratory diseases.
"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."
With only five minutes each to address the EPA, scores of advocates in Denver staged rallies for or against the proposed rules.
"They're basically trying to shut down coal, which takes away my job," said Mike Zimmerman, a foreman at the Twentymile Mine in northwestern Colorado, who attended a rally sponsored by Americans for Prosperity.
At a rally staged by a group called Colorado Moms Know Best, Jaime Travis said the rules would cause some disruption but should be implemented. "It won't be painless. But as a mother, I am truly worried about the future, not just of my state, but the country and the world," she said.
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 percent 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.
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.
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.
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.
Gazette reporter Monica Mendoza contributed to this report