Wednesday AM July 2nd, 2008

A new poll shows high gasoline prices have dramatically changed Americans' views on energy and the environment. More people now say expanding oil drilling and building new power plants is a bigger priority than energy conservation. The poll by the Pew Research Center shows nearly half of those surveyed--or 47 percent--now rate energy exploration, drilling and building new power plants more important, compared with 35 percent in February. The Pew poll of about 2,000 adults conducted in late June shows the shift toward energy development across the political spectrum including among Democrats, political independents, liberals and young people.


Automakers say the government wants too much, too soon when it comes to fuel economy. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says the Feds are underestimating the cost of increasing mileage requirements and want those standards to go into effect too quickly. The lobbying group for ten major automakers claims the proposed new rules, which would raise fuel economy by 4.5 percent a year between 2011 and 2015, go "beyond what is technologically feasible and economically practicable." The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is aiming to implement a law that requires new cars and trucks to meet a collective fuel economy average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020. New cars and trucks would have to meet a fleet average of 31.6 mpg by 2015.

General Motors is still at the top of the heap. The nation's largest automaker was able to retain its traditional U.S. sales lead even though its sales still dropped 18 percent in June. Toyota, which many analysts expected would scoot by GM in June to take the title, posted a sales decline of 21.4 percent. In terms of vehicles sold, it was GM 265,937 to 193,234 for Toyota. Both companies were hurt by a sluggish economy and poor sales of trucks and sport utility vehicles. Ford reported a slide of almost 28 percent.


Iraqis are facing miles-long gas lines, even as the government announces that it's opening six major oil fields and two natural gas fields to be developed by foreign contractors. The government hopes these contracts will boost oil production by 60 percent and provide additional resources to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure and deliver services to the people. The government continues to have problems providing regular power. And sectarian violence, corruption, and inefficient government institutions limit how much Iraqi citizens will benefit from an increase in oil money. An oil ministry spokesman has blamed this week's oil crunch on the sabotage of a pipeline bringing crude oil from the southern fields to a refinery in Baghdad. After waiting more than four hours for gas, one man said he finally edged close to the gas station and "saw a catastrophe." He says the gas pump wasn't working because there was no electricity.


Another drop in construction spending—the eleventh in the past year. The Commerce Department says outlays were down four-tenths percent in May as the continuing slump in housing offset strength in nonresidential building. Residential construction dropped 1.6 percent, the 25th decline in the last 26 months. Home builders are continuing to reduce their production as the backlog of unsold homes is remaining near record levels. The rising tide of foreclosures is forcing even more properties onto the already glutted market. Private nonresidential construction inched up two-tenths percent, reflecting a big increase in spending on hotels and motels and a smaller advance in office construction. Spending on government projects rose by four-tenths percent.


Hackers broke into Citibank's network of ATMs inside 7-Eleven stores this year and stole some customer pin codes. Details are in recent court filings. The bank has nearly 5,700 Citibank-branded ATMs inside 7-Eleven stores throughout the U.S., but it doesn't own or operate any of them. That responsibility falls on Houston-based Cardtronics, which owns all the machines but only operates some, and Brookfield, Wisconsin,-based Fiserv, which operates the others. The Associated Press reports the scam netted the alleged identity thieves millions of dollars. But for consumers, it indicates criminals were able to access pins--the numeric passwords--by attacking the back-end computers responsible for approving the cash withdrawals. The case against three people in federal court in New York highlights a significant problem. AP reports hackers are targeting the ATM system's infrastructure, which is increasingly built on the Microsoft Windows operating system. Citibank has declined comment. It has said it's notified affected customers and issued them new debit cards. Cardtronics says it's cooperating with authorities. Fiserv spokeswoman Melanie Tolley said the intrusion didn't happen on the company's servers.


The Rhode Island Supreme Court overturned a landmark verdict against three former lead paint companies. The unanimous decision reverses the lone victory to date against the lead paint industry. That's a major setback for states that want the companies to pay billions to clean up the toxic substance. A jury in February 2006 found Sherwin-Williams, Dallas-based NL Industries and Millennium Holdings liable for creating a public nuisance by manufacturing and selling a toxic product. The companies would have been required to clean up contaminated homes. The state had said that would cost $2.4 billion and require inspections and work on hundreds of thousands of homes built before 1980.


The contract between movie and television actors and major Hollywood studios has expired with the union studying what studios call a final offer. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers says the offer is worth more than $250 million in additional compensation over three years. Screen Actors Guild Executive Director Doug Allen says it doesn't address some key issues. One is residual payments to actors for reruns of productions that were made only for the Internet. Allen says the studio offer would "mean the beginning of the end of residuals." Both sides have said they'll continue to work under the old contract for now. SAG has also opposed a deal struck by a smaller actors' union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. The AFTRA ratification results are due out July 8th.


Two energy companies have said they plan to build and operate a plant in west Texas that would extract carbon dioxide from natural gas. Oklahoma City-based Sandridge Energy and Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum announced the deal. Officials from the companies say the Pecos County plant will produce at least 450 million cubic feet of carbon dioxide per day after it opens in 2011. Carbon dioxide is used in crude oil production. Sandridge will drill, produce and deliver natural gas to the plant for processing. Occidental will pay the $1.1 billion in construction costs and operate the plant, where it'll treat the gas under a 30-year agreement. Sandridge will retain 100 percent of the methane gas resulting from the processing, while Occidental will retain the carbon dioxide. As part of the agreement, Occidental will receive an additional 50 million cubic feet of carbon dioxide from existing Sandridge gas processing plants. The project also will include a 160-mile pipeline from Mccarney, Texas, to an industry carbon dioxide hub in Denver City, Texas. The pipeline is not part of the agreement.


MetroPCS Communications is offering its flat-rate, unlimited calling cell phone plans in the greater Philadelphia area. Philadelphia is the 11th market for Dallas-based MetroPCS, which has 4.4 million customers nationwide. The company offers cell phone plans priced from $30 a month, without a contract, credit check or activation fee. But phone plans are only unlimited if used within the MetroPCS coverage area, which includes 14 of the 25 largest metro regions. There is a fee to call from outside the coverage area. MetroPCS said it has six company-owned stores in Philadelphia and more than 130 authorized dealers.


AT&T has announced plans to invest $400 million in Tennessee as part of an effort to offer statewide cable television, internet and phone services. The San Antonio-based company applied for a statewide cable franchise with the Tennessee regulatory authority. The move follows the passage of a new state law this year that allows companies to bypass the old system of requiring individual cable permitting for each city or community. The change was the result of a two-year legislative fight between AT&T, the cable industry and local governments that saw millions spent on lobbying and advertising campaigns. Cable companies had argued that it would be unfair for AT&T to be able to circumvent the existing rules to be able to offer their services statewide. AT&T wants to roll out its U-verse package, which delivers TV content to consumers using the Internet, rather than through traditional cable or broadcast formats.


 

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