Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Environmentalists not allowed to participate in coal conference in Hope, Arkansas

Environmentalists excluded from conference on coal power
Thursday, Jul 17, 2008

By John Lyon
Arkansas News Bureau
LITTLE ROCK - Environmentalists have been barred from participating in an industry-sponsored conference that will examine Arkansas' role in the development and use of clean coal technologies, a spokesman for the Sierra Club said Wednesday.

Former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt and U.S. Rep Mike Ross, D-Prescott, are the scheduled keynote speakers for the Arkansas Clean Coal Technology Conference, set for today and Friday at the University of Arkansas Community College in Hope.

A news release from one of the conference's sponsors, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, says the conference will focus on "Arkansas' role in the development and deployment of advanced clean coal technologies as well as the associated environmental, economic and public policy concerns."

Glen Hooks, regional representative of the Sierra Club, said the Sierra Club and Audubon Arkansas asked to participate in the conference and provide alternative viewpoints but were told they could not.
"They said that's not what this is about, they've already got the panel set up," Hooks said. "So we were invited to attend but not necessarily to participate in the official part of the program."
There is "not really any environmental representative on the panels at all," Hooks said.
Ken Smith, executive director of Audubon Arkansas, did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.
Leah Arnold, spokeswoman for American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, said she was not aware that the Sierra Club or Audubon Arkansas had asked to participate, but she said the conference is not a forum on whether coal power should be abandoned.
"We don't think that coal should be taken out. We believe that coal is going to continue - it's going to have to continue - to be a part of Arkansas' energy mix. You can't just do away with 47 percent of (the state's) electricity like that," she said.
The conference will be held about 12 miles from the site of a planned $1.52 billion, 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant Southwestern Electric Power Co. hopes to build near Fulton. The state Public Service Commission has approved SWEPCO's plans, but the state Department of Environmental Quality is still considering whether to grant an air permit for the proposed plant.
Arnold said the conference will include discussion of technology that would allow carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants to be stored permanently underground. The technology is 10 to 15 years away from being a reality, she said.
"Clean coal" technology would not be available when the SWEPCO plant near Fulton goes into operation, but the technology could be added to it and all other power plants when it does become available, Arnold said.
Hooks said America cannot afford to produce additional millions of tons of carbon dioxide every year while waiting for clean coal technology to be developed.
"By all accounts, we're at or near the tipping point when it comes to global warming," he said.
The conference also is sponsored by the Center for Legislative Energy and Environmental Research and the Southern States Energy Board.

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