Tuesday PM March 20th, 2007

CSB report critical of BP, OSHA...Commerce Department reports new home construction picked up last month...Austin's mayor wants $40,000-per-season incentive payment for "Friday Night Lights'' to stay in central Texas...

A report criticizes the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for lax oversight that factored in a deadly 2005 BP Texas City refinery explosion. The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard investigation board repeated allegations that organizational and safety deficiencies at BP led to the blast. Carolyn Merritt chaired the CSB board's investigation.

"The Chemical Safety Board concluded that the tragic accident at the BP Texas City refinery was caused by organizational and safety deficiencies at all levels of the BP Corporation. In our formal recommendations, we are calling on the company to make substantial safety improvements. In addition, we found regulatory oversight of refinery workers by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, needs to be improved. We want OSHA to step up its inspections and enforcement at BP and all U.S. refineries and chemical plants, and to require those corporations to evaluate the safety impact of mergers, reorganizations, downsizings and budget cuts."

The board's 335-page report said that although the plant had had several fatal accidents over the past 30 years, OSHA had done only one process safety management inspection there--in 1998. Lead investigator Don Holmstrom says the placing of temporary work trailers near hazardous areas led to most of the deaths and injuries. The CSB board noted that "cost-cutting in the 1990s by Amoco and then BP left the Texas City refinery vulnerable to a catastrophe.'' The March 2005 blast killed 15 people and injured another 180 in the nation's worst industrial accident since 1990.


The Commerce Department reports that new home construction picked up last month. Housing starts rose nine percent, a better-than-expected showing. The rebound came after a more than 14 percent drop in January. Building permits, a gauge of future construction, fell 2.5 percent. It is the 12th decline in 13 months for permits. Dave Seiders, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders, says he believes much of the starts rebound was because of better weather in some parts of the nation. He says the decline in permits is more indicative of what lies ahead for construction. After a five-year boom in sales, the housing industry has been in a slump as demand has dropped off and home prices have stagnated or declined in some markets.


Austin's mayor wants the city council to approve a $40,000-per-season incentive payment to convince "Friday Night Lights'' to stay in central Texas. Under the proposal, NBC Universal would get the money for each of its two seasons, but only if the network picks up the show for a second season. NBC isn't expected to announce until May whether the show will be renewed. Mayor Will Wynn says the incentive is modest but would send the message that the city really wants the show to stay. The TV show's executive producer Sarah Aubrey says every little bit helps. Louisiana and New Mexico have attempted to lure the show away with financial incentives. The Texas Film Commission says the show will generate about $33 million for the local economy over the course of a 22-episode season.


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