Smart Talk, March 11 

Hidden pork

Environmentalists smelled pork in legislative passage of the higher education spending bill. It included authorization for spending up to $1.5 million for a center at Southern Arkansas University to study the development of lignite (brown coal). It is sometimes used to generate electricity.

“Burning lignite is much dirtier than burning coal,” says Audubon Arkansas executive director Ken Smith. “It's almost like burning dirt. There are lots of trace elements such as mercury associated with it and it doesn't have near the BTU value that coal does. That means you have to burn much more of it in order to achieve the same output that you would with coal.”

Rep. Allen Maxwell is a proponent of developing lignite. “Audubon and Sierra Club would rather buy oil from Saudi Arabia I guess,” Maxwell says. “I'm not going to promote a smoke-stack technology. I'm not for burning it. You can mine it, and capture those materials and sell them to other industries. There are also chemical processes being developed to turn lignite into crude oil. I'm for promoting that to other industries and making it profitable.”

Beyond the air emissions risks, Smith says lignite mining would be harmful to Arkansas' natural habitats and there are better energy opportunities for Arkansas.

“We have mills in south Arkansas and they are shipping thousands of tons of wood pellets to Germany to fuel their renewable energy programs,” he says. “We need to be developing those capabilities so that our wood products are fueling our energy-producing plants here in the state.”

Teachers give up; ask for paddle

A recent article in the Hot Springs Village Voice reported that 40 Fountain Lake School District elementary teachers had petitioned the School Board to approve paddling, a practice currently banned in the schools. Said the article: “Disciplinary issues, particularly in the lower grades, have taxed the nerves of many elementary school teachers, who say too much class time is wasted dealing with unruly children.” That prompted a speedy response from Randy Cox, a Little Rock social worker and the force behind neverhitachild.org, dedicated to ending the use of corporal punishment. He noted in a letter to local newspapers that 30 states and the largest school districts in Arkansas ban corporal punishment. No teachers college provides instruction in the “correct” method of whipping a child, he said. All the national education organizations disapprove of the practice, which can make a school district vulnerable to lawsuit. “Last year, nearly 40,000 times, an Arkansas teacher took some unfortunate minor aside to have him or her ‘take the position' and submit to a battering that is way too close to the genitals,” Cox wrote. “Despite the myths and plenty of anecdotes, there just isn't any empirical evidence that it has ever had any measurable, long-term positive effect.” Fountain Lake, coincidentally, is the school district that raised the ire of Americans United for Separation of Church and State when a plaque identified a new athletic department addition there as a Fellowship of Christian Athletes facility. School officials claimed this was a misunderstanding. Its School Board intends to study the teachers' request.

You now can see the forest

One of our favorite volunteer groups passed a significant milestone last weekend. Tree Streets, an urban forestry project, planted its 1,000th tree in the central part of Little Rock. More than 150 blocks have trees thanks to the privately funded group. The latest was planted in Bernice Park, at Main Street and Daisy Bates Boulevard, with assistance from the Quapaw Central Improvement District. Its work has also included tree planting along Swaggerty Creek and replanting trees lost in the 1999 tornado that devastated downtown. For more information, check the group's website at treestreets.org.


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