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Two Cliffside Power Plant hearings set for Thursday

Two public hearings will be held Thursday night regarding air quality at Duke Energy's Cliffside Power Plant. One of the meetings is officially sanctioned by state regulators, the other is being organized by environmental groups opposed to the power plant. WFAE's Julie Rose reports: Every five years, Duke Energy must renew the air quality permit for its existing coal-fired plant in Rutherford County. That's what Thursday's 6 p.m. hearing in Forest City is about. State Division of Air Quality spokesman Tom Mather says the agency is holding the hearing because environmental groups asked for it. However, environmental groups wanted the meeting to be in Charlotte where more people could attend. Mather says the state always holds the hearing in the city nearest to the facility, which for the Cliffside plant is Forest City. "It takes a lot of staff time to put on hearings," says Mather. "This could go on forever with the number of hearings and we could spend thousands of dollars doing hearings when really it's a matter for someone to send an email or letter if they do not want to travel to Forest City." The Stop Cliffside Coalition worries people in the Charlotte-area won't bother with rush hour traffic for a 50-mile drive to the hearing. So they're holding a simultaneous hearing at the Charlotte City Government Center and will forward public comments to state regulators. Environmental advocate June Blotnick says the Charlotte hearing will focus Duke's new coal-fired unit under construction at Cliffside. "We're taking the long view of this and the Stop Cliffside Coalition will continue to oppose construction until it's fully completed," says Blotnick. "Our air quality is already compromised. You know, we just don't need to be investing in coal at this time." The Division of Air Quality welcomes all public comments, but Mather says the new Cliffside unit has already received the necessary approvals and is not the focus of the permit Duke Energy is currently trying to renew.