A 100-ton concrete-and-steel box is being placed over the main leak from a blown-out BP and Transocean well on the Gulf floor in an unprecedented attempt to capture gushing oil. Meanwhile, a separate mission is getting under way to spray water around the rig that’s drilling a relief well to try to reduce the level of fumes from the thick oil that’s hampering the crew’s ability to do its work on deck. A crane late Thursday began lowering the containment vessel designed to collect as much as 85 percent of the oil and funnel it up to a tanker.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has ordered a halt to all new offshore drilling permits nationwide until at least the end of the month. Salazar spoke to reporters outside BP’s Houston crisis center. He said lifting the moratorium on new permits will depend on the outcome of a federal investigation over the Gulf spill and the recommendations to be delivered to the president May 28th. He says until then, “we are putting things on hold relative to the granting of permits for well construction on the outer continental shelf.” Salazar also said he believed BP’s “life was very much on the line here,” and that he believed the company was taking the situation “very seriously.”
State and federal authorities are preparing to deal with a variety of hazards to human health if and when the full brunt of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill washes ashore. The list of potential threats runs from temporary, minor nuisances such as runny noses and headaches to long-term risks such as cancer if contaminated seafood ends up in the marketplace. While waiting to see how bad things will get, public health agencies are monitoring air quality, drinking water supplies and seafood processing plants and advising people to take precautions.
Employers stepped up job creation in April, expanding payrolls by 290,000, the most in four years. The jobless rate rose to 9.9 percent as people streamed back into the market looking for work. The government says the hiring of 66,000 temporary government workers to conduct the census helped overall payroll growth last month. However, private employers added a surprisingly strong 231,000 positions last month, also the most since March 2006. The unemployment rate rose from 9.7 percent in March to 9.9 percent in April, mainly because 805,000 jobseekers–perhaps feeling better about their prospects–resumed their searches for work. Congressman Kevin Brady says small businesses are reluctant to hire workers while Congress is demanding new taxes, higher energy prices and more expensive health care costs.
Consumer Reports magazine says it has lifted its “don’t buy” recommendation for a Lexus sport utility vehicle that failed an emergency handling test. The magazine says that the 2010 Lexus GX 460 luxury SUV passed the test after a dealership updated software that runs its electronic stability control system. Toyota recalled about 10,000 of the SUVs in April after the magazine told readers not to buy them. The automaker also stopped selling them. Consumer Reports says the rear of the GX 460 slid sideways during a maneuver at the magazine’s test track. But the software update fixed the problem. Toyota resumed sales in late April after updating software of vehicles at Lexus dealerships.
Homeowners could collect thousands of dollars in so-called Cash for Caulkers Rebates for renovating their homes with better insulation and energy-saving windows and doors. A new economic stimulus bill has passed in the House. The Home Star Bill, as its called, would authorize $5.7 billion over two years for a program that supporters–mostly Democrats–said would have the added benefits of invigorating the slumping construction industry and making the earth a little cleaner. Republicans overwhelmingly opposed the bill, and they were able to attach a condition that it would be terminated if Democrats do not come up with a way to pay for it. President Barack Obama has promoted the bill, which also needs Senate approval.
Freddie Mac reports that rates for 30-year fixed mortgages have dropped to the lowest level in six weeks. The average rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages was five percent this week, down from last week when it averaged 5.06 percent. A year ago, 30-year fixed rate mortgages averaged 4.84 percent. Rates dropped to a record low of 4.71 percent in December, pulled down by a campaign by the Federal Reserve to reduce borrowing costs for consumers. The program ended at the end of March, but the fed left the door open to reviving the program if the economy weakens.
A sale of warrants of the Texas banking company Comerica has brought the government $181.1 million in the latest move to recoup costs for taxpayers from the $700 billion financial bailout fund. The Treasury Department said it sold 11.5 million warrants at a price of $16 per warrant. It said the $181.1 million was its estimate of what the net proceeds would be to the government from the sale. Comerica is based in Dallas. Financial institutions have been eager to cut all ties to the bailout program, known as the Troubled Assets Relief Program or TARP, to escape various restrictions imposed on the banks receiving the support including limitations on executive compensation.