Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.) has let his former coal-mining interests escalate into a conflict of interest, A CBS News report implied last night.

Baker denied any such conflict:

CBS correspondent Robert Shakne reported that Baker proposed amending the Clean Air Act, in effect relaxing the anti-pollution standards for four old Tennesse Valley Authority power plants, including one at Kingston, and 175 other power plants nationwide.

Wide that amendment failed, Shakne said, Baker proposed that the standards be relaxed at just one power plant, the one at Kingston.

The smokestacks at Kingston are emitting 3 1/2 times more sulphur dioxode that existing clean-air regulations permit, Shakne said.

What Baker did not mention, Shakne said, was that the kingston amendment would ensure that east Tennesses coal mines could keep selling the bulk of their coal to the palnt - the kind of medium and high-sulpfur coal that TVA might not buy if the present anti-pollution rules are enforced.

Also, Shakne said, Baker never mentioned his financial relations with one those mines. He's sold his interest for $1 million, and had earned $100,000 in royalties.

Baker, according to CBS, said that two years ago he'd placed his interest in a blind trust with instructions to sell, which meants he was not supposed to have control or even to know his investment was being handled.

On CBS, Baker said, "I don't sell any coal to TVA. I have never sold any . . . I don't know that it goes to TVA. I read that in the newspaper and I assume that's true . . . The purchasers have paid and still owe me the balance regardless."

He said he did not think he should have told the Senate of his former financial involvement, "because other wise I would have violated the spirit, meaning and the purpose of the protection afforded by a blind trust."

Shakne reported that the Senate last month passed the Baker amendment without debate, and that it now goes to conference.