Tuesday PM October 13th, 2009

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider throwing out the convictions of former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling for his role in the collapse of the former energy giant. At issue are rulings that upheld all 19 of his 2006 convictions of conspiracy, securities fraud, insider trading and lying to auditors involving the 2001 collapse of Enron. Skilling is serving a 24-year prison term. He's asking the court to consider whether a federal fraud statute was applied correctly. Skilling also claims that he did not receive a fair trial in Houston following Enron's collapse, describing "blistering daily attacks" in the media.


Mayor Bill White has been presented with Business of the Arts award from the Greater Houston Partnership for helping foster business and arts in the community. The announcement of the award was made at a Partnership function today, for a presentation made on September 29th.

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"Thank goodness that the Greater Houston Partnership and the Houston business community recognizes that arts are important for economic development in our community. That's part of who we are. The Houston Arts Alliance has really brought together some of the best talents in the community, taking politics and patronage out of the arts process so that we can put up high-quality art that will endure within our city. I hope that every citizen of this community rallies around to support art funding. There's always some other claim to limited resources we have as a community. But the arts are important if we're gonna be remembered as a great city forever and if we're gonna attract people from all over the world who want to go to Houston to work, to raise their kids and just to have fun."

The Greater Houston Partnership held its annual Business of the Arts luncheon to focus on recent legislation providing incentives to the motion picture industry, and its impact on the region's economy.


No injuries were reported in a fire at a Total petrochemicals facility in Port Arthur that happened after a power outage. Company spokeswoman Pat Avery says the fire this morning involved a heavy oil line between a crude unit and a tank farm. A company statement says the refinery experienced an internal and partial power interruption. The fire happened just before 8 a.m. as crews worked to restored refinery operations. Company firefighters extinguished the blaze.


An international energy think tank says oil demand in developed countries likely peaked in 2005, well before the recession sent crude prices plummeting. IBS Cambridge Energy Research Associates said that oil consumption started to slump four years ago as consumers bought more efficient vehicles and countries expanded their use of alternative fuels like ethanol. Vehicle ownership also has leveled off in the developed world, as has the number of women in the workplace, CERA said. The research report focuses on demand from 30 countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and make up 54 per cent of the world's oil demand. Demand for oil in the U.S. has fallen by two million barrels a day since 2005, according to the Energy Information Administration.


An analyst warns that the promise of enough natural gas to last the nation more than 100 years based on discoveries of vast shale formations could be the next speculative bubble to burst. Geological consultant Arthur Berman says his analysis shows that gas shale fields in Texas and elsewhere aren't as profitable and likely don't contain as much retrievable gas as the industry and others portray. He spoke at an Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas Conference in Denver exploring the notion that the world's oil and gas supplies are diminishing rapidly. Energy company executive Peter Dea says such unconventional gas fields as shale and the Rockies' tight sandstone will play a key role in the nation's energy future.


Colorado officials say the state will become the first to lower its minimum wage because of a falling cost of living. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment has ordered the wage to drop to $7.24 from $7.28, effective January 1st. But that's lower than the federal minimum wage of $7.25, so minimum wage workers would lose only three cents an hour. Colorado is one of ten states where the minimum wage is tied to inflation. The indexing is meant to protect low-wage workers from having flat wages as the cost of living goes up. But unlike most of the states, Colorado's provision allows wage declines. It will be the first decrease in any state since the federal minimum wage law was passed in 1938. Despite the change, employers are free to leave wages flat.


The Census Bureau director says foreclosures will make it tougher and more expensive to get an accurate count of families next year. Director Robert Groves said in Los Angeles that he expects some questionnaires will land at empty homes in areas hard hit by the housing crisis. That means workers will need to make more door-to-door visits, which costs more money. Groves also says his agency will need to focus on reaching out to people who are newly homeless and to families who have doubled up with relatives until they can get back on their feet. Groves says the Census Bureau will address the problem by mailing replacement forms, using a shorter questionnaire and sending bilingual forms to some areas.


Ford says it will add 4.5 million older-model vehicles to the list of those recalled because a defective cruise control switch could cause a fire. Ford says 1.1 million Ford Windstar minivans will be recalled for repairs due to a small risk of fires. The company says another 3.4 million Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles with the same switches also will be recalled even though there have been no reports of fires. Those vehicles mainly are trucks and SUVs. All vehicles covered by the recall are from the 1992 to 2003 model years. Sherwood says this is Ford's seventh recall due to the Texas Instruments speed control switches. The recalls cover a total of 14.3 million vehicles and combined are the largest in Ford's history.


The head of an international airline trade association says the industry will reach some ambitious emissions reductions goals, despite severe financial setbacks faced by airlines across the globe. International Air Transport Association CEO Giovanni Bisignani said in a meeting with reporters that even with fleet expansions over the next 11 years, the industry can be carbon neutral by 2020 through a range of adjustments. Being carbon neutral means that the airlines offset as much carbon as they produce. It can be achieved by using renewable fuels or purchasing so-called carbon credits.


 

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