MATTOON, Ill. - Two eastern Illinois towns just a few miles apart are among the four finalists for a $1 billion, coal-fueled power plant that developers say will produce almost no air pollution.

Mattoon and Tuscola made the cut Tuesday along with two sites in Texas. A final decision is expected in the second half of next year, said officials with the FutureGen Alliance, the consortium of coal and electric companies that is developing what they're calling the "ultimate power plant."

"It's every small town's dream," Sara Holmes, 52, a lifelong Tuscola resident, said Tuesday afternoon.

Twelve sites in seven states were considered for the plant, which is expected to start running by 2012. Two other Illinois locations _ Effingham and Marshall _ didn't make the cut, but Illinois is the "logical choice" for the plant, Gov. Rod Blagojevich said.

"We have the coal, the geology, and the strong support on the federal, state and local level for bringing the world's cleanest coal plant to Illinois," Blagojevich said in a statement.

FutureGen CEO Mike Mudd announced the finalists at a news conference in Washington that was broadcast over the Internet.

"The room went up in a roar of cheers," said Mattoon city administrator Alan Gilmore, who watched the Webcast with other city leaders. "They announced Mattoon first, so none of us in the room had any idea who the other three finalists were. It took a little while for things to calm down."

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Gov. Rod Blagojevich defended his administration's hiring practices and expressed confidence in top aides Tuesday despite a federal investigation into his handling of jobs that are supposed to be shielded from politics.

But the Democratic governor could not explain why his office has offered different accounts of when it implemented a hiring process intended to keep political considerations from influencing who gets state jobs.

"Well, I don't know. I can't speak to that," Blagojevich said at an event in Rolling Meadows.

The Associated Press reported this week that Blagojevich's chief of staff was signing off in late 2004 on candidates' names for jobs that are supposed to be insulated from politics.

That's nearly 18 months after aides said a "blind" hiring process was adopted so that names _ and thus political connections _ would not be considered.

Asked later if the system is completely blind today, spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said, "The design of the system is to not include the identity of candidates." She could not say when the administration completed its switch to a hiring process that omitted names.

CHICAGO (AP) - A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit that sought to bar AT&T from giving the government telephone records without warrants, saying it would require disclosures that would "adversely affect our national security."

Judge Matthew F. Kennelly said disclosing whether AT&T had given such records to the supersecret National Security Agency in its hunt for terrorists would violate the government's right to keep state secrets.

"The court is persuaded that requiring AT&T to confirm or deny whether it has disclosed large quantities of telephone records to the federal government could give adversaries of this country valuable insight into the government's intelligence activities," the 40-page opinion said.

A number of such lawsuits have been filed around the country in the wake of news media reports that AT&T and other phone companies had turned records over to the NSA, which specializes in communications intercepts.

Kennelly's ruling was in sharp contrast to last week's decision from U.S. District Vaughn Walker of San Francisco, who said media reports of the program were so widespread there was no danger of spilling secrets.

Kennelly ruled in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois on behalf of author Studs Terkel and others who claimed their rights had been violated by disclosure of the phone records to NSA.

ACLU legal director Harvey Grossman issued a statement saying the group respectfully disagrees.

CHICAGO (AP) - When Wal-Mart opened a store just outside the city limits last winter, it proudly announced it received a record 25,000 job applications, nearly all of them from Chicagoans.

It was one of the first salvos in an escalating political and public-relations battle between Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and the City Council, which will consider a proposed ordinance Wednesday that would make Chicago the nation's largest city to require "big box" retailers to pay their workers more.

Mayor Richard M. Daley and others warn the "living wage" proposal will drive jobs and desperately needed development from some of the city's poorest neighborhoods. Supporters contend Chicago should be a leader in setting standards for worker pay and benefits.

"We don't want any organization to come on into our communities and make money without treating our people fairly," said the Rev. Reginald Williams Jr., associate pastor for justice ministry at Trinity United Church of Christ on the city's South Side.

The church is part of a coalition of community and labor groups backing the proposed ordinance, which would require mega-retailers to pay their workers at least $10 an hour in wages plus $3 in fringe benefits by July 1, 2010. That is substantially higher than Illinois' $6.50 minimum wage and the federal minimum of $5.15.

The measure covers companies with over $1 billion in annual sales and stores of at least 90,000 square feet.

CARLYLE, Ill. (AP) - A prosecutor pressed jurors Tuesday to convict a woman being retried in the fatal stabbing of her 10-year-old son, calling a Texas death-row inmate's confessions to the 1997 killing "an excursion into fantasy land."

"If you count on me to explain in logical terms why a mother would kill her son, you'd be waiting for eternity," Ed Parkinson told jurors in his closing arguments in the case of Julie Rea-Harper, charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the death of her only child, Joel Kirkpatrick.

While acknowledging investigators have uncovered no clear motive, Parkinson said "we don't have to prove the why."

"We have to prove the who, and the who is sitting right there," he said, pointing to Rea-Harper.

Defense attorney Ron Safer fired back, calling the prosecution's case "riddled with red herrings" against a client he said was wrongly accused by authorities who rushed to judgment and never took as serious her claims that a masked intruder killed her boy when the evidence proves it.

"It couldn't have been her. End of story," Safer said during closing arguments, pointing the finger to Texas inmate Tommy Lynn Sells' confessions to Joel's death. "He is big reasonable doubt" warranting Rea-Harper's acquittal.

Jurors, hearing the case in this lakeside community about 70 miles east of St. Louis on a venue change from Lawrence County, deliberated for about five hours Tuesday before being sent home. They were expected to return Wednesday morning.

OAKWOOD, Ill. (AP) - The body of a University of Illinois student who vanished more than five years ago has been found in the teen's pickup truck that was discovered submerged in a Kickapoo State Park pond, Vermilion County Sheriff Pat Hartshorn said.

The 1999 Ford F-150 belonging to Ryan Katcher was located Monday in about 50 feet of water by emergency workers experimenting with new equipment, Hartshorn told reporters gathered at the scene Tuesday night.

Katcher's body still was in the truck, Hartshorn said.

Coroner Peggy Johnson said the body was being taken to Bloomington for an autopsy and forensic investigation, Champaign radio station WDWS-AM reported.

The truck was found in an area that already had been searched after Katcher disappeared, Capt. Rod Kaag, Vermilion County Sheriff's Department chief detective, told the (Danville) Commercial-News and The (Champaign) News-Gazette. It was towed out of the pond Tuesday evening.

Katcher was a 19-year-old U of I sophomore in November 2000 when during a trip home for the weekend he disappeared after a friend dropped him off at his rural Oakwood home.

CHICAGO (AP) - Children who get obesity-related diabetes face a much higher risk of kidney failure and death by middle age than people who develop diabetes as adults, a study suggests.

The study offers some of the first strong evidence of the consequences of the nation's growing epidemic of type 2 diabetes in children, said Dr. William Knowler, a co-author and researcher with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

The research also lends support to warnings that diabetes and other obesity-related ills are on the verge of shortening average life span in the United States.

The study involved Pima Indians in Arizona, who have disproportionately high rates of diabetes and obesity. They may be "the tip of the iceberg, letting us know what's in the future for the rest of America if we don't do something about the childhood obesity epidemic," said Dr. David Ludwig, director of Children's Hospital Boston's obesity program. He was not involved in the research.

The study appears in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

It involved a group of Indians whom National Institutes of Health researchers have been tracking since 1965. Of the 1,865 participants with Type 2 diabetes, 96 developed it in childhood. The average age of youth-onset diabetes was about 17 years, although the disease was diagnosed in children as young as 3 1/2.

During at least 15 years of follow-up, 15, or 16 percent, of those with childhood-onset type 2 diabetes developed end-stage kidney failure or died from diabetic kidney disease by age 55. That compared with 133, or 8 percent, of those who developed diabetes after age 20.

CHICAGO (AP) - A new but unproven theory says body heat might explain Lance Armstrong's astounding victory over testicular cancer.

The theory _ disputed by Armstrong's doctor _ refers to the unusually high cure rate for testicular cancer, even when it has spread to other parts of the body.

This form of cancer was highly treatable even before Armstrong was diagnosed in 1996. However, his public battle with the disease and seven subsequent Tour de France triumphs put a special spotlight on his recovery.

According to three Johns Hopkins University researchers, the reason for the good prognosis might have to do with the fact that the temperature of the testicles is a few degrees cooler than the rest of the body. That's to enhance development of sperm, but it might also make cancer that develops there sensitive to heat, the researchers said.

And so, their not-yet-mainstream theory goes, when testicular cancer spreads to other, warmer body parts, the higher temperature might damage it and render it more vulnerable to cancer treatment.

Understanding the basis for what they call "the Lance Armstrong effect" might lead to ways to help make other kinds of cancer more treatable, the researchers said in an article in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

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