Tuesday PM January 16th, 2007

Panel critical of BP's process safety performance...Newspaper report: 70 Houston police officers earned more than $50,000 in 2006 overtime...Supreme Court considers how credit ratings are used to determine insurance rates...

James BakerAn independent panel says British oil giant BP didn't emphasize operational safety at its U.S. refineries before the 2005 Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15. The panel--led by former Secretary of State James Baker--said in a summary of its 300-page-plus report that BP had made strides in personal accident prevention but came up short on the bigger picture.

"BP mistakenly interpreted improving personal injury rates as an indication of an acceptable process safety performance at its U.S. refineries. BP's reliance on this data combined with an inadequate process safety understanding created a false sense of confidence that it was properly addressing process safety risks."

Process safety is explained by panel member Irv Rosenthal.

"Process safety deals with containing the potential hazards that exist during the course of converting or modifying a material, so that it deals with insuring that energy, hazards, toxicity of the materials that are being converted are contained in a safe fashion."

The 11-member panel made ten recommendations--including that an independent monitor report to the company's board of directors for a period of five years. The release of the report comes less than a week after London-based BP said Chief Executive John Browne would step down by the end of July, more than a year ahead of schedule. Lord Browne says BP is taking the report very seriously.

"Let me be quite clear. BP commits to implementing the panel's ten recommendations. BP will now consult with the panel on how best to do this across our U.S. refineries and apply the lessons learned elsewhere in our global operations."

Release of the BP report was twice delayed because of James Baker's work with the Iraq study group, which made recommendations to President Bush last month on how to revamp policy in Iraq.

A newspaper finds that 70 Houston police officers earned more than $50,000 in overtime payments in 2006. The department has relied on overtime to maintain a steady presence in the community and prevent rising crime amid population growth due to Hurricane Katrina evacuees. The 70 officers were more than three times the number who made that much in 2005. Four of the officers earned more than $100,000 in overtime pay, up from one officer who made that much in 2005. The Houston Chronicle reviewed 2006 electronic payroll records it obtained under the Texas Public Information Act. City Controller Annise Parker planned to release an audit looking at whether the department is correctly monitoring officers' work hours in overtime or private security. City officials have said the extra overtime should be only a temporary fix to a staffing shortage.

Senators Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Trent Lott of Mississippi are expected to announce legislation that would encourage more state investment in Amtrak by making federal matching funds available. Texas is among 14 states that fund corridor service that Amtrak might not otherwise provide. The sweeping bill calls for $12 billion in federal funding for the next six years. The idea of matching funds for state investment in Amtrak is one that both supporters and critics of the railroad have embraced.

The Supreme Court is wading into a debate over the way a person's credit rating is used to determine insurance rates. During arguments before the high court, several justices seemed concerned that insurance companies might have to notify tens of millions that their credit ratings led to less-than-the-best rates. The case involves a federal appeals court decision that makes it easier for consumers to win lawsuits against corporations that failed to notify them. The appeals court and lawyers for consumers say reckless disregard of the law should be enough to prove a violation. The companies say consumers should have to prove that companies knowingly broke the law.

Tags: News


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