Monday PM January 22nd, 2007

Andrews Kurth law firm settles with Enron bankruptcy estate...Airlines raise some fares by $5 each way...FEMA extends housing aid for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita...

Houston-based law firm Andrews Kurth has agreed to pay the Enron bankruptcy estate $18.5 million to settle potential malpractice claims, according to the Houston Chronicle. Enron never actually sued the firm for allegedly signing off on various deals, andξAndrews Kurthξdenies wrongdoing. But the attorneys say after five yearsξthe firmξwants to put the matter to rest. Court-appointed bankruptcy examiner Neal Batson says the firm may have committed malpractice in approving 28 transactions allegedly disguised as sales so Enron could boost cash flow.

Some carriers--following the lead of United Airlines--over the weekend raised some fares by $5 each way. That marked the second $5 fare increase imposed by major airlines in 2007. Earlier, United led a fare increase on a broader range of domestic flights. United on Friday raised ticket prices on domestic fares for flights longer than 1,000 miles. Fort Worth-based American Airlines and Delta Air Lines matched United's increases in most markets. For months, carriers have been optimistic that--with passenger traffic remaining strong--they can add revenue by raising ticket prices.

The union representing more than 27,000 ground workers at American Airlines said it will open negotiations for a new contract. Fort Worth-based American is the nation's largest airline. The Transport Workers Union didn't publicize its demands. But the union noted that American parent AMR earned a profit last year and has seen its stock price rise eight-fold since 2003. The union says ground workers deserve some credit for the turnaround by increasing productivity and taking on maintenance work from other airlines. The union said it expected negotiations to begin in November. Ground workers and other employees at American are working under 2003 contracts that included wage and benefit concessions designed to keep the airline out of bankruptcy. Those contracts can be changed in May of 2008.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is extending--by six months--housing aid for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Governor Rick Perry announced the extension for many people still displaced by the 2005 storms. Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August of 2005--sending several hundred thousand evacuees to Texas. Rita made landfall the following month in southeast Texas. Perry's office says the previous FEMA housing assistance deadline was the end of February. More details on the extension are expected later this week. Perry says Texas supports FEMA efforts to meet the unique housing needs of individuals and families during the transition.

The Commission of the Port of Houston Authority is celebrating another record-setting fiscal year. At its regular Monday meeting, PHA Executive Director H. Thomas Kornegay outlined record results in operating revenue, container volume and tonnage. For the seventh consecutive year, operating revenue reached a record high, reaching $164 million—about $10 million more than in 2005.

A 14-cent-a-gallon drop at the gas pump over the past two weeks. That's in line with the drop in crude oil prices. Industry analyst Trilby Lundberg says the national average for self-serve regular was $2.18 a gallon. The cheapest gas in the country was found in Detroit--$1.86 per gallon; Honolulu, once again, had the highest at $2.81.

Top executives of major businesses and environmental groups issued a call for government action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and speed the adoption of climate-friendly technology. The U.S. Climate Action Partnership is made up of the leaders of businesses including Alcoa, BP America and General Electric, and environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the World Resources Institute. The member organizations have designed what they call "a solutions-based policy framework on climate change'' as part of an effort to slow, stop and reverse the growth of greenhouse gas emissions quickly.

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