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A Southwest Arkansas reader, one of apparently only a handful concerned about the environmental impact local and globally from pumping more poison into the air at coal-fired generating plants, says he smells a rat in the announcement yesterday in the Hope Star of a coming conference on "clean coal" in Hope.

No rats. Just the electric power industry and their enablers putting a gloss over the dangers of toxic air to advance the cause of the planned SWEPCO coal burner in Hempstead County.

The two-day session includes the industry's friend, U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, and sundry other local elected officials who know who butters their bread. I'm a little disappointed to see Arkansas PSC Chair Colette Honorable leading a panel on "Making Clean Coal Technology a Reality." Does that sound like a PSC commissioner open to the possibility that even "clean" coal might not be the best energy option for the planet's future?

Of course there are no environmentalists on the program. Or any representatives of the group suing to block the SWEPCO power plant. Former U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt is a highly touted participant. The article doesn't mention it, but Gephardt is a paid lobbyist for Peabody Energy. You know Peabody. They're the coal miners who hauled away Paradise in the famous John Prine song.

Write it all down to the progress of man.

(For another point of view, folks in Hope might want to motor up to Conway July 26. At 11 a.m. at Michelangelo's, Faulkner County Supporters of Sustainable Communities wiill hear James Burke of ECO talk about "Clean Energy and Coal." All are welcome.

(James tells me, too, that his group has started a "No Coal" show on KABF, 88.3, the community radio station in Little Rock, at 9 a.m. every Tuesday. You'll hear a little John Prine there, as well as useful information. Next Tuesday, the hosts will talk with Teresa Marks, director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. Should be interesting.)

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