By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Environmental Protection Agency launched public hearings on Tuesday on its proposal to slash carbon emissions from the country's power plants, and interested groups ranging from coal miners to senators made their views known.
The agency is holding two-day hearings in Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. and expects oral comments from more than 1,600 people, on top of more than 300,000 written comments already received on the 645-page Clean Power Plan.
The plan, unveiled on June 2, is the centerpiece of President Barack Obama's climate change strategy. It drew cheers from green groups hopeful of a carbon crackdown and accusations by some industry groups of a regulatory attack on coal.
In Pittsburgh, a coal, oil and gas hub, speakers from neighboring states like West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio descended upon the Highmark Stadium to give testimony.
The West Virginia Coal Forum and the United Mine Workers brought busloads of members to Pittsburgh to talk about the havoc the plan would wreak on the state economy.
In Washington, environmental groups rallied outside EPA headquarters. Some held signs and pinwheels in the shape of wind turbines in a show of support for the sweeping proposal.
U.S. Senator Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, spoke at the hearing and later addressed the groups outside, offering harsh words for the EPA's critics.
In Atlanta, state utility regulators warned they would be forced to shutter coal plants only recently retrofitted to comply with other pollutant regulations. Meanwhile a 9-year old girl told EPA officials they must adopt the rules to ensure she breathes clean air.
Bill Becker, president of state utility regulators' group the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, told the EPA some states will need more time to design plans to comply with the rules and that other states were not adequately credited for actions already taken to cut emissions.
Mary Martin, energy and environmental council to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the EPA failed to convene a required Small Business Advocacy Review panel for its proposal, which "is intended to give small businesses a voice in the rule making process."
Commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees the electric grid, on Tuesday testified separately to skeptical Republican lawmakers about the EPA plan.
"EPA is embarking on this comprehensive effort to federalize energy planning even though the agency has absolutely no energy policy setting authority or expertise," said Representative Ed Whitfield on Kentucky.
Philip Moeller, a Republican appointee, told lawmakers that FERC should play a more formal in working with the EPA to address electric grid reliability.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Ros Krasny and Cynthia Osterman)