Steam and smoke rise on a cold day at a coal-fired power plant along the Platte River in Littleton, just outside Denver, Colorado.

(Photo: iStockphoto.com)

Climate change is front and center during two days of Environmental Protection Agency hearings this week in Denver. The EPA will hear testimony on July 28 and 29  -- and it's likely to be very heated. At issue is the agency's Clean Carbon Plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Three other cities are also hosting public hearings: Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and Pittsburgh. The EPA is accepting comments from the public until Oct. 16. "Colorado Matters" host Ryan Warner interviewed show producer/reporter Leslie McClurg about the upcoming meeting.

Why is the EPA opening the mic on the Clean Carbon Plan announced June 2nd, 2014?

When the agency released the Clean Power Plan it was met with a lot of loud voices both cheering and protesting it’s hundreds of pages. The agency is gathering testimony and public comments -- as a precursor to finalizing the rule in mid-2015. The agency has received more than 300,000 written comments on the new rule since June 2, 2014. 

What would it do?

The Clean Power Plan would cut carbon emissions by 30 percent nationally by 2030 from 2005 levels. It’s part of President Obama's Climate Action Plan. The reduction would come from updating or even replacing existing power plants to make them more efficient. The EPA has set a target for each individual state -- and then each state has a pretty wide latitude on how it could meet or even exceed the goal. For example, a state could meet its target through increasing energy efficiency, shifting to natural gas, or encouraging conservation.

How much is a 30 percent drop in CO2? 

The rule will reduce carbon emissions by about 500 million metric tons a year nationally. That’s the same amount of pollution that the entire country of Canada produces annually. The EPA says the rule will lead to less smog and an overall reduction in greenhouse gases.

Why are power plants the target?

Power plants are the nations biggest national polluter. About 38 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide comes from power plants, according to the EPA. Transportation is next in line at 32 percent. Much of nation’s carbon pollution comes from aging, inefficient coal-fired power plants. The EPA says the average coal plant is 42 years old. The EPA emphasizes that limits are already set on other pollutants like arsenic and mercury, but there aren’t any national limits on carbon dioxide.

How will the EPA implement any new regulations?  

Once the agency finalizes the rule, it will then allow states a year to design their plans. If a state doesn’t come up with an acceptable plan of its own, the EPA will impose a federal one. 

What does the rule mean for Colorado?

Even though Colorado still gets a lot of its energy from coal... it’s actually way ahead of many states in terms of how much power is generated through renewables. That’s because over the years there’ve been several efforts to boost renewables - both through state legislation and through actions at the ballot box. Former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter who now heads the Center for the New Energy Economy in Fort Collins says Colorado should meet the EPA’s goal ahead of time.

“Colorado is a long way down the road to achieving all of what’s going to be required of other states by 2030,” Ritter says. “We’re way down the road and should get most of it done by 2020.”

Could the EPA’s rule mean consumers will see higher electricity bills?

The mining industry says yes. But, the Colorado public utilities commission doesn’t expect that to happen from the two largest public utlities in Colorado -- Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy.

How will the rule affect jobs?

That really depends on who you ask. The Colorado Mining Association says the rule would jeopardize about 2000 coal industry jobs in Colorado. Stuart Sanderson is the Association’s president -- and he warns that other jobs in related fields like transportation and manufacturing could also be hurt. Environmentalists, on the other hand, argue that the proposal will lead to a lot more jobs in renewable energy fields like solar and wind.

Who can attend the hearing? 

The hearings are open to the public. However, the EPA says there is a wait list for the 200 slots alloted each day in Denver, and viewing space is limited. Comments can be submitted directly to the EPA through email, online, fax, or a written letter. Here are directions to submit comments.

Where and when is the hearing?

July 29 and July 30, 2014 (9:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.)

EPA Region 8 Building

1595 Wynkoop Street

Denver, CO 80202

Information and directions to EPA's Denver office