Wednesday AM February 21st, 2007

Governor's TSU advisory committee to meet this week...Critics of fast-tracking coal-fired plants seek halt to permitting hearings...Global Santa Fe settles patent dispute with Transocean...

A town hall meeting will be held at Texas Southern University to discuss improving the Houston school's management and direction. Governor Rick Perry says the TSU advisory committee that he created in January will convene Thursday night to get community input. Committee members must offer fiscal and strategic planning suggestions by March 15th. Former TSU President Priscilla Slade is accused of misspending hundreds of thousands of school dollars to furnish and landscape her home. Slade led the historically black university for more than six years before her 2006 firing. She faces two charges of criminally misusing university money for her private benefit If convicted, she faces from probation to life in prison, and a fine of up to $20,000. Slade, who's denied the allegations, is scheduled for trial in August.


A judge has blocked Governor Rick Perry's executive order fast-tracking the permitting process for some proposed coal-fired power plants. The decision came after a hearing in which some citizen groups argued Perry's 2005 fast-track executive order was illegal and unconstitutional. The judge also ordered that state hearing administrators reconsider a request from environmentalists to delay a permit hearing set to begin Wednesday in Austin. The judge did not cancel the hearing--but told administrative judges to reconsider the schedule. The matter involves six coal-fired plants that Dallas-based TXU proposes to build in north, east and central Texas. Critics say Texas and Oklahoma citizens who oppose the plants haven't had enough time to prepare. Lawyers for the state said the plaintiffs failed to show how they'd be irreparably harmed by the environmental hearings.


Global Santa Fe has settled a patent dispute with Transocean for about $15 million, according to the Houston Business Journal. The agreement permits GlobalSantaFe to utilize Transocean's dual activity drilling technology on two rigs currently working in the Gulf of Mexico and another rig being delivered from the shipyard in Singapore. GlobalSantaFe will also pay three percent of future revenues received on the three rigs and five percent on any other rigs the Houston-based drilling contractor may acquire that incorporate the dual activity technology.


Lyondell Chemical and Sinopec Zhenhai Refining & Chemical have received Chinese government approval to construct a propylene oxide/styrene monomer manufacturing facility in Ningbo, China, according to the Houston Business Journal. The new facility is expected to be completed by 2009. Lyondell operates similar plants near Houston and Rotterdam in the Netherlands.


An announcement about the formation of a new academic research center at Rice University addressing environmental issues is set for next week. Mayor Bill White and China's Consul General in Houston will open the China-U.S. Center for Environmental Remediation and Sustainable Development's inaugural conference on the Rice campus on February 26th. The center will help in the development of cutting-edge, practical technology and practices that China and the U.S. must have to support both economic growth and environmental protection. The center is a partnership between academia, industry and government. The focus will be on environmental remediation, drinking water treatment, groundwater preservation, cleanup and modeling, air pollution control, prevention and modeling, and environmental policy, law and regulation.


A new $32 million joint venture to develop a "smart park" is being undertaken by the Betz Companies and Worthington Development near Bush Intercontinental Airport. High Ridge Industrial Park at Beltway 8 and Lee Road will have offices, warehouses and commercial condominium space on 16.3 acres. The project will be completed in two phases. The facilities will be wired with high-performance routing, maximum connectivity, ultra-fast broadband and high-tech security. A multipurpose conference facility will have two high-tech conference rooms.


The Planet is expanding data center operations at Greenspoint in Houston by the end of March, according to the Houston Business Journal. Earlier in February, the company announced plans to relocate its headquarters from Dallas to Bayou Place in downtown Houston. The Planet and Everyone's Internet were acquired by California-based GI Partners last May. The Planet-EV1 servers dropped the EV1 portion of its name last month, selecting The Planet as its new corporate identity. The company has more than 50,000 servers and 22,000 customers.


Houston-based Frontier Oil has acquired Colorado-based Ethanol Management in a $3.1 million deal, according to the Houston Business Journal. Assets include a products terminal and blending facility near Denver. Frontier also operates a refinery in El dorado, Kansas.


A very thin schedule of economic releases in this holiday-shortened week. The Labor Department today will release inflation figures on the consumer level. According to briefing.com, Wall Street is looking for an increase of one-tenth percent in the overall Consumer Price Index. The "core'' CPI, which strips out the energy and food sectors, is expected to be up two-tenths percent. We'll also get updates on initial claims for jobless benefits, oil inventories and the Conference Board's Index of Leading Economic Indicators for January.


Retailers are doing a better job of keeping their customers happy. That's the finding of the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index. The index measuring the retail sector rose to 74.4 out of 100 in the fourth quarter. Costco got the industry's best marks, posting its highest score ever and one of the highest in all of ACSI. Best Buy scored the biggest overall gain, thanks to top-line products and extensive service offerings. Home Depot and Lowe's moved in opposite directions, with Home Depot's score rising and Lowe's dropping to its lowest level ever. The department and discount stores industry failed to improve this year, while supermarkets were up slightly and the drug store industry showed some improvement.


American Skiing Company agreed to sell two Vermont ski resorts for $83.5 million. The Killington and Pico resorts go to Dallas-based real estate investor SP Land Company and Utah-based resort company Powdr Corporation. SP Land will assume about $5 million in debt as part of the purchase. The sale is expected to be complete in 45 days. The announcement comes four days after American Skiing announced the sale of Mount Snow in southern Vermont and New Hampshire's Attitash ski areas. Killington has been in partnership with SP Land since 2004, when American skiing restructured its real estate debt. Park City, Utah-based American Skiing says the sales will allow it to repay $190 million in bank debt and $115 million in junior debt. That'll leave American Skiing with three resorts in the northeast and Utah.


The way we track time is changing with the times. Market researchers say more people are carrying electronic devices that also tell time--things like iPods and Blackberries. In a survey last fall, investment bank Piper Jaffray found that nearly two-thirds of teens never wear a watch--and only about one in ten wears one every day. Other research found that while Americans spent almost $6 billion on watches in 2006, that figure was down 17 percent compared with five years earlier. As a result, some watchmakers have begun to add more functions to their time pieces, with models that have everything from heart rate monitors to GPS trackers.


Bio photo of Ed Mayberry

Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...