HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The state on Tuesday approved new air pollution limits on large power plants which the industry calls the most stringent in the country.

The Legislature's Regulation Review Committee on Tuesday approved rules requiring 61 power plants and boilers to reduce sulfur-dioxide emissions by up to 50 percent as of Jan. 1, 2002, and to reduce nitrogen-oxide emissions by more than 20 percent a year later.

The regulations, developed by the Department of Environmental Protection, offer incentives for plants that use cleaner fuels and allow companies to ``trade'' emission credits from newer, cleaner plants for the older plants.

Critics say the rules do not do enough to reduce harmful pollutants for residents who live near the state's six oldest plants. Those plants _ in Bridgeport, Norwalk, New Haven, Middletown, Milford and Montville _ began operating before the 1977 Clean Air Act took effect and have been exempt from current pollution limits.

Tom Kirk, Connecticut general manager of Wisvest, a Wisconsin-based power company that operates two of the six plants, said his company was ``very disappointed'' with the regulations.

``These are clearly the most strict standards ever contemplated, much less actually implemented in the nation,'' he said.

The Connecticut Coalition for Clean Air said the regulations were a step forward, but did not go far enough.

``On a scale of one to 10, I'd give it a five. It gets us halfway where we need to go,'' said Brooke Suter, a spokeswoman for the coalition.

The clean-air coalition and a group of lawmakers said they will seek even tougher regulations in the legislative session that begins next month.