Monday AM April 223rd, 2007
by: Ed Mayberry, April 23, 2007 5:04:00 am
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has unanimously designated as "unacceptable" the response by Third Coast Terminals, a petroleum products manufacturer, to a four-year-old board safety recommendation following a 2002 fire at the company's plant near Friendswood. The facility was never rebuilt, but the parent company continues to operate from a facility in Pearland. The Friendswood facility blended and packaged motor oils, but the board says it was not designed or equipped to prevent the spread of fire. It lacked fire detection and suppression equipment, smoke or heat detectors, sprinklers or fire alarms.
The Port Commission of the Port of Houston Authority today will receive results of a study of the port's economic impact, based on 2006 data. The commissioners will also decide whether to approve a $3.49 million construction contract to Ursa Corporation for fill placement at Bayport. Commissioners are also being asked to approve an advance funding agreement for $3.3 million with the Texas Department of Transportation to widen Port Road to a four-lane boulevard and construct an overpass.
The U.S. House has overwhelmingly approved a massive water projects bill. The bill passed 394-to-25 after being stalled for years because of its price tag and how the Army Corps of Engineers does business. The overall cost of the bill is at least $15 billion. Supporters of the bipartisan measure say it's needed to fund hundreds of projects in nearly every state to improve flood protection, modernize the nation's waterways and restore the environment. Billions are targeted for restoration of the Florida everglades and for hurricane and flood protection in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast in the wake of damage from Hurricane Katrina. For Texas, the bill authorizes $459 million in spending for the Dallas floodway and $188 million for navigation and ecosystem restoration in the Corpus Christi Ship Channel. It authorizes flood control projects on two major watersheds in Harris County—Buffalo Bayou and Halls Bayou. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson chairs the subcommittee that first considered the bill. The Dallas Democrat says the legislation would help clear a project backlog and make way for new projects. She said passing the bill this year is a must. Some of that money in the projects is non-federal.
One lawmaker calls it "one way of throwing water on our faces so we look at this problem.'' This week's report on Medicare's financial health is likely to have a first-of-its-kind warning that will require President Bush to find ways to make the entitlement program more self-sufficient. Medicare trustees are required to issue the warning when they project that Medicare will rely on general government revenues for 45 percent of funding in consecutive years. Last year's report contained such a projection. The warning could result in payment cuts for health care providers or higher premiums for beneficiaries. Congress also could choose to ignore it.
Finance ministers from the European Union have been conducting two days of talks in Berlin with the euro near record highs against the dollar and Japanese yen. Ministers from the 13 nations that share the euro meet separately to discuss how they should be doing ahead of their 2008 budget plans. The euro's strength is increasingly a matter of concern, making European exports more expensive to customers in the U.S. and competing unfavorably with Japanese rivals that are benefiting from the weak yen. The euro rose to a two-year high earlier this week but stopped short of hitting its all-time record. The British pound reached a 26-year high after breaking the $2 mark this week.
Seatex is relocating its headquarters and manufacturing facility from Houston to Rosenberg, according to the Houston Chronicle, bringing about 50 jobs to Fort Bend County with plans to add about 25 more jobs in the next five years. The chemical company is expanding the former Albis Plastics factory on Texas 36.
Several hundred American Airlines employees protested against the company's payment of stock to nearly 900 managers. The unions estimate the payments, based on a recent closing price of shares in parent AMR, are worth $170 million. The rally outside AMR headquarters in Fort Worth was the latest in a series of events organized by unions to pressure the company for better pay. Contract negotiations with pilots started recently. Talks with ground workers and flight attendants are expected to begin by early next year. AMR Chairman Gerard Arpey defends the payments, saying managers had received less compensation in years when company stock did poorly. The bonuses are a reward for the 133 percent increase in AMR's stock price from 2004 through 2006.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has given final approval for the western portion of a $4.4 billion Kinder Morgan Energy Partners natural gas pipeline project. The pipeline will transport fuel from the Rocky Mountains to markets in the east. The new portion includes 713 miles of new pipeline from Colorado to Missouri that will be completed by next year. Another eastern leg could be finished by 2009.
The owner of a Houston-area company and an employee have pleaded guilty in Albany, New York, to drug charges from a multi-state probe of illegal prescription steroid trafficking. Eugene Bolton and Monday Miller are both from Sugar Land. They entered their pleas in Albany County Court. The 40-year-old Bolton owns Cellular Nucleonic Advantage of Sugar Land. The 38-year-old Miller works for the company. Bolton faces up to six months in jail and five years probation under the plea agreement, while Miller faces probation. Both admit taking phone orders for prescription drugs, then faxing the information to physicians who signed the prescriptions. The prescriptions were then filled by mail order at a pharmacy. Albany County prosecutors say Bolton's company advertised its services in car and bodybuilding magazines. District Attorney David Soares has been investigating the illegal sale of steroids and has so far charged nearly 20 people. Most are from Florida and New York.
The co-owner of a payroll company with office in Texas pleaded guilty in Atlanta, Georgia, to wire fraud and scheming to defraud clients of more than $4 million—by diverting employee taxes to his personal use. Stephen Taylor could get up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Federal prosecutors say Taylor was co-owner of 20/20 Payroll Solutions, with office in Georgia, Alabama and Texas.
Two former California State Forestry officials are suing Pacific Lumber Company and its owners, Houston-based Maxxam Incorporated. Richard Wilson is a former director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Chris Maranto was a CDF forest resources expert. Both filed the "whistleblower'' lawsuit on behalf of the state of California. The pair accuse Pacific Lumber and Maxxam of defrauding California out of tens of millions of dollars. The suit filed in San Francisco alleges the Scotia, California-based Timber company and Maxxam failed to live up to obligations under the 1999 Headwaters Agreement that spared some of the world's oldest and largest trees. Pacific Lumber denies the allegations and says it's fulfilled its obligations under the Headwaters Agreement.
Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare said it's sold two Pennsylvania hospitals to the Philadelphia-based Solis Healthcare Investor Group. The sale involves the 137-bed Roxborough Memorial Hospital in Philadelphia and 153-bed Warminster Hospital in the Philadelphia suburb of Warminster, Pennsylvania. Tenet says financial terms won't be disclosed until the sales close at the end of June. The deal is subject to regulatory approvals. Both hospitals are among 11 hospitals that Tenet decided to sell last June. Solis Healthcare was formed in Philadelphia by investors Robert G. Souaid and Jack Donnelly. Souaid has owned healthcare properties in the southeast for a dozen years. Donnelly is the chief executive of Roxborough Memorial Hospital.
Changes made by Comerica could cut the amount collected by Michigan banking regulators by more than $1.5 million. Comerica officials earlier this year announced the company, founded in 1849 as Detroit Savings Fund Institute, plans to move its headquarters to Dallas by fall. The company also has applied for a national charter, so bank regulators in Michigan no longer would oversee Comerica even if it kept its headquarters in Detroit. That change alone means that Michigan may be unable to collect supervisory fees charged annually by the Michigan Office of Financial and Insurance Services. This year's fee schedule won't be released until around May 1st. But Ofis expects Comerica will be granted its federal charter soon, so the fee schedule may be moot since Michigan would no longer have the responsibility to oversee Comerica.
Schlumberger posted a first-quarter profit 63 percent higher than last year's quarter. The Houston-based oilfield services provider credits strong revenue growth in international markets. Net income rose to $1.18 billion, and operating revenue jumped 22 percent to $5.46 billion. Both exceeded Wall Street expectations. On average, analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial were looking for revenue of $5.4 billion.
Windows XP is back by popular demand. Dell said on its Web site that it'll let home PC buyers choose between Microsoft's older operating system and Windows Vista when they buy certain new machines. Like many computer makers, the Round Rock PC maker stopped offering XP on most home desktops and laptops soon after Vista launched at the end of January. By late March, Dell said only two models aimed at home users could be configured with XP--although the option still existed on many models for business users. Now, in response to popular demand, Dell says it'll immediately offer XP again as an option for four models of its Inspiron notebooks and two models of its Dimension desktop PCs. This comes just weeks after Dell said it is also planning to offer PCs with the free Linux operating system that competes with windows.