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Perry refused. Solve school finance, and then we can talk about restoring the System Benefit Fund, the governor said through a spokesman. If they don’t return the money, it could be another long, hot summer for many poor families. BURNING FOR COAL Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams describes Texas as “the Saudi Arabia of coal.” With 13 billion tons underground, the state is home to 3 percent of total U.S. coal reserves. To Williams’ mind, that represents the future of Texas’ energy production. What’s that you say coal power is too dirty, a major producer of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming? Not so, says Williams. This is “clean” coal. Williams recently spoke at the University of Texas at Austin, touting Texas’ chance at winning a $1 billion federal grant to build the world’s first “zero emissions” coal plantpart of several efforts in Texas to re-imagine coal as a modern, efficient energy source. The federal Department of Energy is offering the grant money in conjunction with the FutureGen Industrial Alliance, a group of “some of the world’s largest coal producers and users in the world,” according to its Web site. The zero emis sions demo plant would use a process called gasificationa different method of burning the coal that first breaks it down into basic chemical elementsthat drastically reduces CO 2 emissions. For some environmentalists, that all sounds well and good, except they don’t see anything “clean” about Texas’ use of coal in the near future. Texas coal plants already lead the nation in carbon dioxide and mercury emissions. Karen Hadden, the executive director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition, describes the FutureGen plant as a “one-time show piece.” Hadden also says there are contradictions in the FutureGen project. Dallas-based TXU Energy, for instance, is a FutureGen affiliate, but the company has plans to build 11 decidedly unclean coal-fired power plants in Texas by 2010. “They want to build a generation of dirty plants when the technology is here to make them cleaner,” Hadden said. Commissioner Williams, meanwhile, said in his speech at UT that he is “not sold yet” on renewable energy because of its high cost. He said that providing cheap and clean coal is his priority. But clean coal may not be as affordable as Williams makes it out to be. One new clean-coal plant will cost roughly $975 million to buildcompared with, say, the estimated $300 million bill for the planned wind-power farm in the Gulf of Mexico. And storing the carbon waste produced by the clean coal plant may also prove expensive and environmentally risky. “[The plant] sounds real good on paper,” Hadden said, “but it seems to me to be the wrong place to put our energy efforts.” FEINGOLD THE HAWK? U.S. Sen. progressive as they come. In an April 18 speech at the University of Texas at Austin on behalf of John Courage, the Democrat making a third attempt to unseat U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith \(R-San what it had come to hearkind of. Feingold rattled off a list of his crowdpleasing positions: publicly funded campaigns, a presidential censure, the importance of public service, his lone vote against the original PATRIOT Act, and his opposition to NAFTA, to the 1994 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade Organization, and to Most Favored Nation status for China. With all his progressive credentials firmly established, he then uttered five words that almost never pass through his lips. “I agree with the president,” Feingold said. He was talking about Iran. “For progressives to be credible, for Democrats to be credible, we have to know when to say that it is possible that we might have to take military action. I’d put Iran in that category.” Feingold qualified his remarks a bit, saying that the administration has been too aggressive in its reported chatter of using nuclear weapons on Iran. The president’s hot rhetoric, Feingold said, has reduced the chances for a diplomatic solution. “I think his emphasis is off,” he said. While Feingold adopted a surprisingly hawkish tone, his comments were understated compared with what the president was saying about Iran the very same day. When a White House reporter asked Bush about the possibility of a nuclear strike against the Muslim nation, he responded, “All options are on the table.” Now that’s a bombshell. MAY 5, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5