Thursday November 16th, 2005

State Senate Finance Committee says Texas won't allow hurricane evacuees to be booted out of hotels on December 1st...Job loss due to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma rises by 19,000...Economist magazine ranks Houston 34th best city in the world for business travel...

The state's Emergency Management Coordinator says Texas won't allow Louisiana hurricane evacuees to be put out of their hotels on December 1st. That's the date the Federal Emergency Management Agency has set for cutting off federal money for emergency housing for Hurricane Katrina evacuees. Coordinator Jack Colley told the state Senate Finance Committee in Beaumont today that the state won't allow anyone affected by the hurricane to be put on the street. He says he doesn't yet know the solution to the dilemma, but he says Texas state officials are appealing FEMA's December 1st deadline. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst had estimated Hurricanes Katrina and Rita would cost Texas taxpayers at least $1.4 billion in fiscal 2006. State Homeland Security Director Steve McCraw has said local costs would bring that tab closer to $2.7 million. Dewhurst said FEMA should cover some or all of the estimated cost--but the state would have to pick up what FEMA doesn't. The Senate committee moved today's hearing to Beaumont to hear from those hit hardest by the hurricanes.

FEMA officials in Texas say they're aggressively working toward that December 1st deadline to move all hurricane evacuees from hotels into more stable housing. They say all evacuees have to do is locate an apartment and let FEMA know--and then the agency will work with local housing agencies to sign leases. Under the plan, the government will pay rent for evacuees until March 1st. FEMA spokesman Don Jacks says officials are working to solve problems with evacuees who might have bad credit or criminal histories. He says the agency is examining all possibilities. But some evacuees currently in hotels aren't sure the process will be so easy. New Orleans evacuee Calvin Jamison says he and his family have been trying to get an apartment for months. But they have no money and no transportation, and they say it's hard to get through administrative red tape. FEMA officials announced the new deadline yesterday.


The Labor Department says the number of Americans who have lost jobs due to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma rose by 19,000 last week. That total is now put at more than 561,000. Storm-related claims peaked at 108,000 in the third week in September and have been declining since that time. Total jobless claims throughout the country fell by 25,000 last week to 303,000. It is the lowest level since mid-April and a sign that the job market has largely shaken off the impact of the hurricanes, at least on a national basis.


Output at the nation's factories, mines and utilities rose at the fastest pace in 17 months in October. It was a solid rebound after the slowdown caused by devastating Gulf Coast hurricanes. The Federal Reserve reports that industrial output surged nine-tenths of one percent last month as refineries and oil and natural gas platforms resumed production. There had been widespread shutdowns caused by Katrina and Rita. Last month's increase followed a one-and-a-half-percent plunge in September. That was the biggest one-month drop in industrial production in more than two decades.


Senate Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici wants the chief executives of five major oil companies to resolve ''apparent inconsistencies'' in their testimony of a week ago. Under questioning from New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, four said their companies didn't meet with Vice President Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force in 2001. The fifth executive said he didn't know. The White House has refused to disclose contacts with industry representatives during deliberations of the task force, but the Washington Post, citing White House documents, reports that representatives from four of the companies visited the White House complex and met with officials of the task force in early 2001. Lautenberg has asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez for an ''immediate criminal investigation.'' While the executives weren't sworn in, Democrats note it's against the law to lie to Congress whether or not you've been sworn in.


Marathon Oil CEO Clarence Cazalot told an energy conference in Boca Raton, Florida that U.S. refining capacity needs to expand as a wider variety of crude oil grades comes into the country. Cazalot says refineries should enhance their ability to process more high-sulfur sour crude, which he says is being pumped in greater abundance than low-sulfur "sweet" grades and requires more complex refining equipment. Marathon's proposed $2.2 billion expansion for its Garyville, Louisiana refinery would add more sour crude processing capacity.


A fire at a Southeast Texas rice drying plant kept firefighters from several departments busy this morning. Witnesses report flames towering 60 to 70 feet into the air at the Waller rice dryer, but no injuries have been reported. Smoke from the fire could be seen for miles around. Fire officials say the flames erupted around daybreak today at the plant on 290 at FM 362. Waller city officials say flames engulfed a building that stores rice and corn. Firefighters are working to keep the fire from spreading to neighboring grain silos, but no residences or other businesses are thought to be threatened. No word on what sparked the blaze. Waller is a town of about 2,100 residents on the Waller-Harris County line, about 40 miles northwest of Houston.


Nevada-based Sierra Pacific Resources has agreed to pay Enron $129 million to settle claims for payment on power supply contracts terminated in 2002. Enron will honor an unsecured Sierra Pacific claim of $126.5 million against its bankruptcy estate. Enron halted power deliveries to Reno-based Nevada Power when Sierra's credit rating was cut.


According to an Economist magazine survey, Houston ranks 34th on the list of the 127 best cities around the world for business travel. Factors include cost, convenience and comfort. Researchers looked into crime, climate, transportation, airport access, quality of hotels and recreation. Vancouver, British Columbia ranks first on the list. Findings will be published in the magazine's annual "World in 2006" issue, which includes commentary and predictions for next year.


SBC says it will invest an additional $800 million in the Texas economy as a direct result of reforms passed by the legislature this year. Senate Bill Five simplified government regulation of the telecommunications industry to encourage new technology investments and create greater competition. SBC says it will invest funds in video and high-speed Internet technology for high-speed voice, data and video transmission over power lines.


Continental Airlines has begun daily non-stop service between Newark Liberty International Airport and Ponce, Puerto Rico. Ponce is Continental's 25th Caribbean destination. Continental operates nonstop flights to 76 destinations in 24 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.


The Port of Houston Authority has received nearly $45 million in federal funding for the Houston-Galveston Navigational Ship Channel for 2006. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will receive $26.8 million for general construction and moneyξfor operations and maintenance.


Houston-based Boots & Coots International Well Control has entered into an agreement with Safety & Risk Practice Pty. Ltd. of West Australia, according to the Houston Business Journal. The deal means Boots & Coots will be represented in Australia, New Zealand and Japan, in a region where activity in the oil and gas industry has been steadily increasing.


Urban Living has launched Urban Living Lite, offering flat-fee real estate services, full-scale marketing and the Internet to sell client's homes. Urban Living specializes in properties inside the Loop. Urban Living Lite will only list pre-owned single-family homes, townhomes, condos and high-rises under the flat-fee plans.


Houston-based Prosperity Bancshares has reached a $242.7 million deal to buy Sugar Land-based SNB Bancshares and its subsidiary Southern National Bank of Texas. Southern National Bank operates seven Houston-area locations.


CenterPoint Energy and Duke Energy plan to link their pipeline systems to allow natural gas to be shipped from Texas to Florida. The 250-mile line would transport natural gas from CenterPoint's Perryville Hub in northeast Louisiana to the Gulfstream Natural Gas System, half-owned by Charlotte, North Carolina-based Duke.


Falcon Gas Storage has activated its Worsham-Steed Gas Storage Facility west of the Dallas/Fort Worth area in Jack county. Worsham-Steed began receiving gas for injection earlier this month from the Energy Transfer pipeline system. A planned expansion will increase injection and withdrawal capability at Worsham-Steed by almost four times.


The Enron movie is one of 15 movies the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences picked this week as a semi-finalist in the Best Documentary Feature category, according to the Houston Chronicle. The final five nominated documentaries for the 78th Academy Awards will be announced on January 31st. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room will be released on DVD to coincide with the trial of Ken Lay, Jeffrey Skilling and Rick Causey. Jury selection is set for January 17th.


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