Friday PM August 25th, 2006

Texas motorists find cheaper retail gasoline prices...Former Enron employees "within days" of reaching settlement in lawsuit against Ken Lay estate... U.S. Senator John Cornyn to address seventh annual Indo-American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston gala...

Texas motorists are finding cheaper retail gasoline prices this week. The weekly AAA Texas gas price survey finds retail prices for regular, self-serve gasoline is averaging $2.80 per gallon. That's eight cents per gallon less than last week. Nationally, the average price is $2.91 per gallon, seven cents less than last week. Auto club spokeswoman Rose Rougeau says the Labor Day holiday marks the end of the summer driving season. She says that will mean decreased demand that should keep prices down. AAA national spokesman Mantill Williams says with the summer driving season now behind us, we've probably passed the high point for gas. At the same time, he says he wouldn't rule out a future price spike, given the geopolitical situation and the energy infrastructure. Houston's average is down eight-and-a-half cents to about $2.77 per gallon. Gasoline averages three cents higher in Galveston. Corpus Christi has the lowest average retail price of $2.64 per gallon, and the state's biggest price decrease this week of 11 cents per gallon. El Paso has the state's highest average gasoline price of $2. 89 per gallon, down a nickel.


The lawyer who represents thousands of former Enron employees in a lawsuit against the estate of the late Ken Lay says his team is within days of reaching a settlement. At a scheduling conference, Lay attorney Marvin Nathan confirmed the assessment of Seattle-based attorney Lynn Sarko. But funds cannot be distributed until all defendants have settled or the matter is resolved in court. U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon has already approved settlements totaling $264.3 million collected on behalf of former employees. Some $24 million in legal fees and expenses will first be subtracted. Lay's estate still faces a shareholder lawsuit and one from the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Justice Department could file its own civil suit against his estate this fall. In July, Judge Harmon approved a $37.5 million settlement with Northern Trust, the trustee of Enron's 401(k) plan. Former Enron officers and directors settled for $85 million and sold a settlement claim from Enron in bankruptcy court for $135 million. Any settlement leaves former Chief Executive Jeff Skilling as the only remaining defendant in the suit that alleges the administrators of the company's retirement plan and its outside directors, Lay and Skilling, failed to adequately diversity Enron's 401(k). Skilling is scheduled to be sentenced October 23rd, and prosecutors are asking the judge to force him to forfeit some $183 million. That's the amount they say combines ill-gotten gains of both Lay and Skilling.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled that convictions will no longer disappear simply because a defendant dies during appeal. Abatement of convictions and legal debts originally was designed to keep a convict's heirs from inheriting legal debts. But the same legal principle still exists in other courts, including in federal courts, where lawyers for late Enron founder Ken Lay are asking that his convictions for fraud, conspiracy and lying to banks in two separate cases be erased.


The FBI says a college student's checked luggage on a Continental Airlines flight today from Argentina to Houston--contained dynamite. A Houston Fire Department official says the man told authorities that he works in mining and often handles explosives. The dynamite was found and removed during an inspection of luggage from Flight 52 from Buenos Aires, which landed at Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport. Airport system spokeswoman Marlene McClinton says it began when a bomb-sniffing dog "had a hit'' on explosive residue. The identity and age of the passenger weren't released. But authorities say he's from Connecticut and attends Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. Flight 52 continued on to Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, where more security screening was planned.


BP today confirmed it's appointed a new refinery manager for its Texas City plant--the site of a deadly 2005 accident. Keith Casey, who's plant manager at a Motiva Enterprises refinery in Norco, Louisiana, will take over the 460,000-barrel-a-day Texas City plant. He replaces the retiring Colin MacLean, who was appointed to lead Texas City in May of 2005, two months after an explosion killed 15 workers and injured some 170. BP officials called the shift a natural transition, given that MacLean--at 60--is at retirement age. The company tapped MacLean to the lead the Texas plant because of his history of turning around troubled plants.


U.S. Senator John Cornyn is addressing the seventh annual Indo-American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston gala on Saturday at Westin Oaks. Cornyn is founder and co-chairman of the U.S. Senate India Caucus, a bipartisan coalition dedicated to expanding areas of agreement and candidly discussing issues of concern between the United States and India. He is also the chairman of the subcommittees on Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship; and Emerging threats and Capabilities.


Kerr-McGee Chairman Luke Corbett's total compensation is about $200 million after the company's buy-out by Houston-based Anadarko Petroleum. Company filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission say the deal Kerr-McGee shareholders approved August 10th made Corbett's stock holdings worth $134 million. Kerr-Mcgee's board of directors in June also approved a cash payment to Corbett of about $14 million, payable after the deal was done. The closing of the $18 billion deal triggered severance agreements between Kerr-McGee and its executive officers, including Corbett. He'll get an estimated $43.7 million in accrued retirement benefits, according to a company proxy filing in June. The company also has agreed to pay Corbett's income tax on the $14 million lump-sum payment and provide him with a downtown Oklahoma City office and a secretary for a year. Anadarko plans to move Oklahoma City-based Kerr-McGee's employees and operations to suburban Houston.


Rhode Island state authorities have reached an agreement to clean up a polluted neighborhood with two energy companies, including Houston-based Southern Union. The Tiverton neighborhood is so contaminated with arsenic and other toxins that some of its soil is blue. In 2000, Southern Union bought a company the state blames for the pollution. The deal requires southern union to resume soil tests and perform emergency cleanups on at least six heavily polluted properties. The company National Grid bought the Rhode Island assets of Southern Union's New England gas division. It has agreed to pay the first $13 million of any future court judgments or settlements if Southern Union cannot or will not pay. The agreement does not resolve who is responsible or who will pay full cleanup costs for the neighborhood. Officials at national grid and southern union did not immediately return calls for comment.


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