The Arkansas Public Service Commission can be thankful this season for some very outspoken electricity customers. More than 200, mostly private residents have published comments ahead of a public hearing Nov. 30 on Docket 16-027-R, proposed changes to net metering.

Net metering is a utility industry term. When big electricity providers like Entergy, SWEPCo and the electrical cooperatives send electricity into a home, it's "metered," typically by the kilowatt-hour. The transportation lines between power plants and customers is called the grid. When customers with solar panels or windmills produce more electricity than they consume, they can push electricity back out onto that grid and get credits from the power company. Thus, consumption may be offset by contribution.

Ann Kenda / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Soy has been widely accepted as a heart-healthy food for nearly two decades.  Manufacturers of packaged food products have claimed that soy protein reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, and labeled their products thusly.

Now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration isn’t so sure and is seeking an unprecedented revocation of the authorized claim.  With an authorized claim, manufacturers get a stamp of approval from the FDA to directly state a health benefit — calcium, for instant, helps stymie osteoporosis.

The agency said a review of evidence linking soy protein to improved heart health wasn’t conclusive enough to warrant an authorized claim. 

Douglas Balentine, director of the Office of Nutrition and Food Labeling, said studies have evolved since the authorized claim for soy's heart benefits was approved in 1999.

C-SPAN

Election night 1992 brought a horde of people to the steps of the Old State House in Little Rock, where Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, along with his wife and daughter, and Tennessee Sen. Al Gore and his family, were waiting. Just after midnight, Nov. 4, the party stepped out onto the portico.

"Gives me goose bumps today just thinking about it," said Jimmy Moses, a downtown Little Rock developer.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Brad Graham is driving his truck along the edge of a catfish pond near Lake Village, blowing a soybean grain mixture into the water.

“My stepdad was into fish farming, and I just decided I wanted to do a little bit of farming,” he says.

He began farming with four ponds right after college during a time when politicians and entrepreneurs hoped catfish in the Mississippi Delta could become what chicken is in the Ozarks. That was before Vietnamese and Chinese fish flooded the American market about 10 years ago.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

More than 150 wood pellet manufacturing mills operate across the U.S., many supplying the domestic woodstove pellet market with home heating fuel.

More than a quarter are industrial pellet mills, grinding thousands of acres of forest into biomass for overseas export to electrical utilities stoking retrofitted coal-fire furnaces with "densified" wood.

The largest mills, concentrated in the southeastern U.S., claim to sustainably harvest timber, from both hardwood and softwood forests. But a new mill, Highland Pellets in Pine Bluff, which harvests only fast-growing Southern softwood pine may be among the greenest.

Still, the calculated ecological costs and benefits of forest biomass remain hazy.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

In Brinkley, halfway between Memphis and Little Rock, Sandra Kemmer is volunteering in a local cafe to promote the area’s economy by giving out rice products on metal trays.

“Hey ya’ll. You can have some cookies when you come back; it’s rice month,” she tells a couple passing by her stand.

Agriculture is the center of life here, but for decades rural towns like Brinkley have been dwindling and with them a linchpin of daily life, the town newspaper.

Ann Kenda / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Rice industry leaders have announced a plan to form a task force to look into whether voluntary smoke management guidelines can help reduce tension between farmers who use field burns to clear residue after the harvest, and residents who say the smoke aggravates asthma symptoms. 

The task force  will use a model based on smoke management guidelines for forestry landowners.

“They’ll use it as a template but draft smoke management  guidelines that are voluntary but more applicable for agriculture, specifically with crops,” said Lauren Waldrip Ward, executive director of the Arkansas Rice Federation.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Arkansas soybean farmers who rely on a chemical called Dicamba to kill weeds must stop using it during the growing season next year. That’s because it has allegedly been drifting to neighboring farms and killing crops.

Dan Charles / NPR

On the eve of a major decision by the state over the controversial weed killer dicamba, tensions are running high in Arkansas’s farming communities.

“This is probably the most divisive the agricultural community has ever been,” said Shawn Peebles, an organic farmer in Augusta. 

Peebles said he hasn’t personally sustained damage from dicamba drift but he is experiencing issues with companies no longer wanting to do business with Arkansas growers due to concerns about residue from the weed killer.  

Thirty cents of every health care dollar is wasted, according to speakers at a recent “Cost of Health Care in Arkansas” symposium at the UA Little Rock Bowen School of Law.  What accounts for some of the waste? Unnecessary procedures with substantial costs that usually offer little or no health benefit to the patient.  

Examples of low-value care include unnecessary diagnostic imaging, vitamin D screenings, annual electrocardiograms (EKG) for patients without symptoms or risk factors, antibiotics for a simple respiratory infection and aggressive treatment for lower back pain before it has a chance to improve through rest and gentler therapies.

Patients themselves may have to put a stop to low-value care, says Dr. Joe Thompson with the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement.

“They have the most skin in the game, so to speak,” he said.

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