Thursday PM July 31st, 2008
by: Ed Mayberry, July 31, 2008 4:07:30 pm
President Bush says he's using his last six months in office to push new energy plans that include electricity from coal. Reliable sources of electricity must be part of a strong economy, and "there is no more reliable source of electricity than coal," Bush said in a speech to the West Virginia Coal Association gathered at the Greenbrier Resort. He said promoting a variety of energy sources will be part of the "sprint to the finish" he plans for his presidency. Coal should be part of the solution to reduce dependence on foreign oil, he said, adding that the United States has 250 years of coal reserves that leave the country "in good shape."
Bush is also demanding once again that lawmakers lift a ban on offshore oil drilling, the third day in a row he's gone after Democrats on the issue. Bush says the sooner the ban is lifted, "the sooner we can get this oil from the ocean floor to your gas tank." But Democrats say the country is better served by exploring further use of wind, solar, and other energy sources, instead of remaining beholden to big oil. After the speech, Bush went to Kennebunkport, Maine, for a long weekend with his family.
Congress appears to be set to head home for the August recess without coming to a deal on offshore oil and gas drilling. A House Republican effort to require a vote on a drilling bill before the House adjourns for a month-long break has failed by a single vote. Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison expressed her disappointment on CNBC.
"We want to have more production of energy in our country to increase supply. That's what will bring down the price. And Congress had several weeks to take this up. We are very disappointed that we kept being blocked by the majority. People are for more production because they know when it costs $100 to fill up a truck or an SUV or $85 for a car that that's just unsustainable."
Democrats like House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer claim oil companies already have leases for areas experts say contain huge amounts of oil and say those should be used first. With the hours ticking down before Congress adjourns for the summer, it doesn't look like lawmakers will take any action on energy.
Representatives Gene Green and Nick Lampson, with the support of about 15 other Congressmen, last night unveiled a plan to allow environmentally responsible oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and in the Gulf of Mexico. It would also modernize the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and allow release of its oil to market. The bill would also help curb energy speculation and establish a fund for alternative energy development.
Gas prices in Texas have fallen for the second week in a row, reflecting the recent fall in wholesale crude prices. AAA Texas said that the average price for a gallon of gas in Texas is at $3.81, down nearly 11 cents in one week and 18 cents in two weeks. Nationally, prices fell 12 cents a gallon to $3.91. But prices across Texas and the nation are still more than a dollar a gallon higher than they were a year ago. For the second week in a row, gasoline in Corpus Christi is the cheapest at a fraction more than $3.75 a gallon. Motorists in El Paso paid the highest--$3.86 a gallon.
The Alaska State Senate is down to the final days of a second special session to decide whether to license a new natural gas pipeline. The project is designed to unlock 4.5 billion cubic feet of North Slope reserves daily. After languishing in committee for a week, it appears the bill could be ready for a floor vote. While a license in no way guarantees construction of a multi-billion dollar natural gas pipeline, it calls for TransCanada to move forward on a costly process of pursuing a federal certificate. Along with the state license comes $500 million in seed money from the state. Even if the Senate ultimately concurs, it will be at least ten years before any North Slope gas moves to market. Plus, there is still a competing pipeline moving forward without the state's startup money. ConocoPhillips and BP both believed the state's application process was too restrictive, and didn't apply under those guidelines.
Plano-based Electronic Data Systems says its shareholders have approved the acquisition of the company by Hewlett-Packard. Palo Alto, California,-based HP has been planning to buy the technology services company for about $13.9 billion. The deal was approved by the European Commission on July 25th and has also passed the regulatory waiting period in the U.S. EDS said that the deal still requires some non-U.S. and non-E.U. regulatory clearance before it can close. The company expects the agreement to be completed during the third quarter. HP and EDS previously agreed to settle five shareholder lawsuits related to the buyout, and, as part of the settlement, the deal will not close before August 18th.
Governor Rick Perry has repeated his request for Federal Emergency Management Agency help for Texans affected by Hurricane Dolly. Officials say about 600 people are still in state shelters. More than 10,000 residents are without electricity. Perry, in a letter to President Bush, asks that FEMA expedite the state's request for aid for people whose homes were damaged--but aren't covered by insurance. Perry also seeks assistance for repair, reconstruction or replacement of damaged public buildings. Dolly hit South Texas on July 23rd. The governor's request--on that date--for individual homeowner aid wasn't immediately granted. The Feds told the state to first do preliminary damage assessments. Texas was granted a major presidential disaster declaration on July 24th. That helped with protective measures taken before and after the storm--but individual and business losses weren't covered.
Federal health officials say the salmonella strain linked to a nationwide outbreak has been found in irrigation water and a Serrano pepper at a Mexican farm. Dr. David Acheson, the Food and Drug Administration's food safety chief, is calling the finding a key breakthrough in the case. Acheson said the farm is in Nuevo Leon, Mexico. Previously, the FDA had traced a contaminated jalapeño to a farm in another part of Mexico. Acheson and other officials were grilled at a Congressional hearing about why the investigation originally focused on tomatoes. The officials insisted that tomatoes still cannot be ruled out and that it is quite possible that the outbreak was caused by several different kinds of contaminated produce.