MESQUITE, Nev. — Several hundred Utah and Nevada residents gathered at Mesquite City Hall Thursday evening to protest a planned coal-fired power plant to be built about 14 miles northeast of here.

The public hearing attracted environmental groups, clean-coal proponents and retirees who said they moved to the desert of Utah and Nevada because of its clean air.

"The central question tonight is, do the expected emissions from this proposed power plant meet all current state and federal air quality rules and standards," said Dante Pistone, a spokesman for the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, which scheduled the hearing. "We don't want this public hearing to turn into a town meeting to see who likes the power plant and who doesn't. We don't want this meeting to be a debate about global warming. We're not going to solve that problem tonight."

The proposed $1.2 billion Toquop Energy Project would provide 750 megawatts of electricity for 500,000 customers in Arizona and Nevada.

Critics argue the power plant would emit dangerous particulates, foul the air and continue to add to climate change. Those in favor said the plant would be one of the cleanest, most efficient coal-fired plants in the nation, providing power to a booming population base.

Rod Moore, the NDEP engineering permit writer for the project, reviewed the plant's location and specifications. In reviewing the air quality standards, he noted that Toquop would be a "very clean power plant." The comment elicited a rumble of complaints from the audience, which prompted Pistone to tell everyone to "save your comments and write them down."

"If this gets out of control, we will close this meeting down," he warned.

Detailed scientific modeling of various emissions that would be produced by the plant, including mercury, nitrogen, sulfur, carbon dioxide and fine particulate matter, were reviewed by Moore.

"This qualifies as a low-emitting unit under Nevada's program," he said, adding all concentrations of emissions were below acceptable levels in studies as far away as Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon. "The project will not contribute significant regional haze."

Mesquite Mayor Susan Holecheck asked the NDEP to deny the operating permit for Toquop, saying the power plant emissions would "harm residents of Mesquite."

Her remarks earned her a standing ovation from much of the crowd.

Ronda Hornbeck, chair of the Lincoln County, Nev., Commission, spoke in favor of the power plant, which would be built in her county.

"We all need to realize each and every one of us needs electricity," she said to boos and jeers from the audience. "This is not just for Lincoln County, Mesquite or southern Utah. Each one of us is dealing with growth, and we have a dire need for energy. We have to make this happen."

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