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Environmental groups say proposed regulations for new coal-fired power plants in Canada are still too weak. (Associated Press)

Environmental groups say more than 5,000 people have written to the federal government demanding tougher rules for coal-fired power plants.

Wednesday marked the end of a 60-day period for public comments on new regulations that will govern those power plants in the future.

The rules have been controversial because they won't kick in until July, 2015 and apply only to coal-fired power plants built after that date or to existing plants once they have been in operation for 45 years.

Environmental groups said at a press conference Thursday the proposed regulations are too "weak" and will do very little to move Canada towards its greenhouse gas emissions targets.

"The government has committed to having 90 per cent of electricity from non-emitting sources by 2020. But Environment Canada shows the government won't reach that even by 2030 with these regulations," said Dale Marshall from the David Suzuki Foundation.

Burning coal to produce power is considered to be one of the big contributors to industrial greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution in Canada.

The 5,000 critical public comments came from citizens and also members of environmental groups who were urged to write in to the federal government.

"There is a comment period in which Canadians are entitled to express their opinion and ask for changes in regulation," said the Executive Director of the Sierra Club John Bennett. "If this government was honest and democratic it is going to respond to this ... 5,000 comments is pretty unprecedented."

Coal plants to be phased out over 45 years

Bennett says the vast majority of comments urge the government to completely phase out coal fired plants in Canada within the next 15 years. The proposed regulations say that coal plants won't be phased out for another 45 years.

In an interview with CBC's The Current Thursday, Environment Minister Peter Kent said the new coal regulations are still a  work in progress. "We will work on the final regulations in the months ahead."

But the controversy over coal isn't likely to go away for the federal environment minister.

Alberta company Maxim recently received approval to build a new coal fired power plant near Grande Cache Alberta.

Opponents say Maxim is rushing to complete the project before the new regulations kick in, something the previous Environment Jim Prentice specifically said his department would not allow.

Kent has indicated he will close the loophole that allows companies to fast-track coal fired power plants.

But environmental groups say they are still "waiting to get a clear signal" from Kent on this.