Wednesday PM October 4th, 2006

Valero refinery employees treated for respiratory problems after chemical release...Houston consumers expecting natural gas and electricity rate reductions... Shareholder lawsuit alleges BP negligence in oversight of Alaska pipelines...

Several employees of the Valero refinery in east Houston in the 9700 block of Manchester are being treated for minor respiratory problems after a mid-morningξchemical release.ξTwenty-eight workers were transported to area hospitals, according to a Houston Fire Department official, whoξsays another 30 or 40 were treated on-site. A shelter-in-place for the area around the refinery was lifted before noon. Plant officials say the release was sulfur dioxide gas from a sulfuric acid leak. Sulfur dioxide is a corrosive, colorless, very irritating gas or liquid. The refinery is closed down through mid-November for maintenance, but several thousand workersξhave beenξon site for that scheduled work.

California's attorney general is seeking felony indictments against the former chairwoman of Hewlett-Packard and four others. Heξis filingξcriminal complaints naming Patricia Dunn, along with the man who was forced-out as HP's chief ethics officer, and three men who worked as investigators for the company. They each face four felony charges, including identity theft and the use of false pretenses to get confidential information from a public utility. The company's CEO, Mark Hurd, is not among those charged. Neither is HP's former general counsel, Ann Baskins, who had some oversight as the company looked into media leaks. HP disclosed last month that during the investigation, detectives working on behalf of the company had secretly obtained phone logs of company directors, employees and others. They did so by pretending to be the people they were targeting, in order to trick phone companies into handing over the records.

CenterPoint natural gas customers will see a five percent drop in their monthly bills, and Reliant Energy customers on the price-to-beat or Secure Plan will be getting as much as $50 in credits on their electric bills. TXU Energy is offering customers on its price-to-beat plan a $100 credit. This is the third natural gas decrease for CenterPoint, with natural gas prices dropping since last year's hurricane-induced spike.

About 14,000 union workers at 12 plants in ten states, including Texas, are threatening a strike or lockout tomorrow if Goodyear Tire and Rubber goes through with its plan to close down the plant in Tyler and Gadsden, Alabama. There's no immediate word on any movement in the talks today. The Tyler plant has more than 1,000 workers, and 960 are in the union. Their three-year contract expired in July, but workers have stayed on the job under a day-to-day extension. But yesterday, union officials gave three-days notice that they were terminating the extensions. A union official in Tyler describes things there as being "very intense.'' The union also represents Goodyear employees at plants in Akron, Marysville and Saint Marys, Ohio; Lincoln, Nebraska; Topeka, Kansas; Buffalo, New York; Danville, Virginia; Union City, Tennessee; Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, and Fayetteville, North Carolina. A business leader in Tyler says a plant closure in the east Texas town would deal a severe blow to the local economy.

BP executives and its board of directors were negligent in their oversight of pipelines in the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field in Alaska. That's according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of shareholders. The more than 100-page lawsuit filed yesterday in Superior Court in Anchorage says BP executives and the board breached their fiduciary duties in running U.S. operations for the world's second largest oil and gas producer. Their conduct, the suit says, damaged BP's reputation; hurt the environment; left BP open to costly lawsuits, penalties and fines; increased its operating costs due to burdensome requirements by regulators; and resulted in lost revenue and profit. The suit focuses on recent BP problems, including leaks because of corroded pipes at Prudhoe Bay and a refinery explosion in Texas in which 15 people were killed. BP is based in London.

There's word from Tokyo of another recall of laptop computer batteries. Fujitsu says it is recalling 287,000 batteries made by Sony. It is the latest twist in the massive global recall of the batteries, seen at risk of overheating and catching fire. Details of the recall are still being worked out. Similar recalls were issued earlier by Dell, Apple and Toshiba.

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