Tuesday AM February 5th, 2008

BP apologizes for 2005 Texas City refinery blast, as federal judge hears victim impact statements, considers plea agreement...Alliance Data Systems plans to close Dallas call center, cutting 250 jobs...

Eva RoweBefore considering a plea deal resolving the criminal probe into the 2005 BP Texas City refinery explosion, a federal judge heard arguments about the deal and comments from victims of the blast and family members. BP formally pleaded guilty in an agreement over its criminal conduct in the explosion. Current Texas City Plant Manager Keith Casey entered a guilty plea on behalf of BP, saying the company had failed to protect its workers. Casey also apologized. But relatives of the 15 workers killed and 170 injured are upset with the deal with the Justice Department that would have BP pay $50 million. Eva Rowe's parents died in the explosion.

"I had to visit the morgue to identify my parents. My mother had to be identified by DNA because there was not much of her left. She had been severely burned and decapitated during the blast. I will never forget seeing my father's blood-soaked face with the lines running from his eyes down his cheeks from the tears that he cried before he died. I often wonder what he was thinking at that moment."

Rowe says BP hasn't learned lessons from the blast.

"The only thing they know is money. This explosion was caused by their pure, unadulterated greed. Hit them where it matters most, the only place that matter to them—in their bank account. Show BP that it financially will never pay to take shortcuts and compromise the safety of the men and women who work at their plants so that some other 20-year-old daughter will not have to be told that both of her parents were murdered for the profits of a large multinational corporation."

Dave Senko worked as contract manager of 11 of the 15 workers killed in March 2005.

"I am extremely disappointed that no individuals have been held criminally responsible for the tragedy at Texas City. And although BP, the company, is pleading guilty and has agreed to pay a $50 million fine, this is no deterrent to BP, nor does it provide incentive for BP to take the kind of action necessary to prevent more deaths. There have been three more fatalities at the site since the March 23rd explosion. And there remains serious safety problems at the Texas city refinery."

BP is spending $1 billion to overhaul the Texas City plant, including replacement of blowdown stacks with flares that burn off vapors. The company has spent $1.6 billion settling more than half of about 4,000 civil claims.

Alliance Data Systems has notified regulators that it plans to cut about 250 jobs by closing a Dallas call center. The company's proposed acquisition by the Blackstone Group appeared to collapse last week. An Alliance spokeswoman said that the layoffs could be fewer in number and are not related to the failed takeover. The Dallas-based company notified the Texas Workforce Commission that it plans to make the job cuts by March 31st. Alliance spokesoman Shelley Whiddon says some workers could move to a new center in suburban Collin County that will employ 150 people to take calls from Spanish-speaking utility customers. Employees who aren't bilingual and not hired at the new center will be offered jobs at another center in Ennis, or can apply for "a handful'' of jobs at headquarters.

The Commerce Department says factory orders rose by 2.3 percent in December--the biggest increase in five months. It marks an improvement from November's 1.7 percent gain. For all of 2007, factory orders rose just 1.4 percent. That was the worst performance since 2002, when the economy was struggling to recover from the 2001 recession. Manufacturers have been hard hit by the housing slump and problems in the domestic auto industry. They also continue to see fierce competition from overseas producers. Against that backdrop, factories eliminated 28,000 jobs in January and have cut 269,000 jobs over the past 12 months, according to the government.

Researchers at MIT and Dallas-based Texas Instruments say they've designed a new chip that uses less power. Company officials say the chip could be used in everything from implanted medical devices to sensors that detect enemy tanks on the battlefield. The research was funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. MIT's Anantha Chandrakasan says if the companies can overcome some production obstacles, such a chip could be ready for commercial use in five years. He says if you reduce the amount of energy needed to run a chip, you can extend the battery lifetime of many systems. MIT and Texas Instruments officials declined to offer details on funding from the pentagon's research arm, known by the acronym DARPA. DARPA and Pentagon officials didn't immediately comment.

BancorpSouth Insurance Services has announced a deal to buy JMG/IC Insurance Agency of Nacogdoches, Texas. Terms weren't released. BancorpSouth Insurance is a subsidiary of BancorpSouth Bank. JMG/IC was founded in 1962 and has written premiums of more than $100 million. The company operates in: Itasca, Illinois; and in Houston, Livingston, Tyler, Henderson and Athens, Texas. BancorpSouth Bank is based in Tupelo, Mississippi.

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...