Monday PM June 25th, 2007

Texas and Massachusetts chosen for wind technology testing centers...Supreme Court puts off Enron-related ruling, taking no action in securities fraud case with billions at stake for investors...Kroger workers ratify contract...

Massachusetts and Texas have been chosen to receive federal support to build wind technology testing centers. The announcement came from U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. The projects--at $20 million each--are backed by public colleges. Bodman says each project will receive up to $2 million from the Energy Department to test equipment to develop large-scale wind blade testing centers. Selected for the federal funds are the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Partnership and the Lone Star Wind Alliance. The Lone Star Wind Alliance proposes a test facility in Ingleside. The Massachusetts project involves building a center along Boston Harbor. Texas General Land Office Commissioner Jerry Patterson welcomes the announcement.

"Well, I'm pretty excited about it. And I think it just shows that Texas, which is--you know, we've been in the energy business for a hundred years, and this is the energy business. It's kind of new energy, and it's part of my interest in Texas not only being the leader as far as installed wind power capacity, which is pushing 3,000 megawatts, but I want us to be the leader in manufacturing, testing, assembly—all of the above. We want to be able to manufacture what's being installed here in Texas and not have to pay the expense of importing these items from, you know, Europe and places like that. So this test facility down there in Ingleside near Corpus is a really positive development."

U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison says the facility brings cutting-edge research and equipment to the Gulf Coast, creating the next generation of wind energy. U.S. Senator John Cornyn notes the benefits the project will have on local economies. In Corpus Christi, Houston and in west Texas. The group includes several colleges in Texas, as well as Montana State University, Stanford University, New Mexico State University, Old Dominion University, as well as the Houston Advanced Research Center, BP, Dow, Huntsman, and Shell Wind.

The U.S. Supreme Court today put off a ruling related to the Enron scandal. The high court took no action in a securities fraud case with billions of dollars at stake for victimized investors. The case asks whether Enron shareholders can pursue a lawsuit against Wall Street investment banks that did business with Enron. Justices have already agreed to consider a similar suit accusing two equipment manufacturers of colluding with a cable TV company to deceive investors. Three months ago, a federal appeals court blocked the $40 billion Enron investors suit against Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse First Boston and Barclays Bank. Shareholders and investors in the class-action lawsuit had asked the Supreme Court to review the ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That court reversed a decision by U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon in Houston, who had said shareholders could sue as a class.

A federal bankruptcy judge has ordered investment firm Goldman Sachs, to release documents and materials of a 2001 financial project it had with Enron. Goldman Sachs was among Enron's chief capital providers. The order by a New York-based U.S. bankruptcy court involves a $1 billion restructuring effort that became known as "Project Truman.'' The court's order also allows lawyers for the creditors to continue taking depositions from people involved in the deal. That includes Robert Hurst, who at that time was vice chairman of Goldman Sachs. He has since retired. Hurst's name, and that of the project, surfaced briefly in the 2006 fraud trial of former Enron Chairman Ken Lay. The investment firm has said producing the materials is "not burdensome'' but worried a ruling favorable to the creditors could spawn more expansive requests.

Union workers at Kroger supermarkets in the Houston and Dallas areas have averted a strike. The members of the United Food and Commercial Workers International ratified a three-year deal with the Cincinnati-based grocery chain on a new contract. The main sticking point in the contract talks was over health care benefits. The union says the contract provides wage increases, increased vacation and affordable health care. Kroger said the agreement covers more than 13,000 workers in 202 stores in the Dallas and Houston area. Before the two sides reached a tentative agreement late last week, Kroger had taken out newspaper advertisements looking to hire new employees. On Thursday, union members rallied at a Kroger in Houston and asked customers to boycott in case of strike. The food workers' Dallas local represents about 600 meat cutters in 90 Kroger stores who had been without a contract since June 6th. In Houston, more than 12,000 cashiers, meat cutters and other workers were without a contract since March 31st.

A real estate trade group says sales of previously-owned homes were little changed last month, but other trouble signs were present. The National Association of Realtors says sales of existing homes fell three-tenths of one percent to nearly six million units. The May sales pace was the slowest since June 2003. At the same time, the median price of a home sold in May dropped 2.1 percent to just under $224,000. That's the tenth straight price decline. The supply of unsold homes surged five percent to a level that would take nearly nine months to erase at the May sales pace. That's the highest inventory level since 1992.

The Texas Railroad Commission is investigating possible leaky natural gas lines that may have caused soil and water contamination in two counties. The 1,600 acres in Eastland and Stephens Counties are owned by rancher Jay Marcom. Marcom suspected chemical contamination in January when some grass and oats started dying--and he notified the commission. TRC executive director Rich Varela says the commission is trying to identify the contamination. The lines are owned by Ranger Gas Gathering and Enbridge Gas. Enbridge spokesman Bill Stephens in Houston says a leak goes across Marcom's property for two miles. Workers found two areas of damage to grass. Stephens says Enbridge crews are treating the soil using "land farming,'' in which nutrients and microbes are added. Officials at Ranger Gas gathering couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

The average price of gasoline across the country dropped about 11 cents over the last two weeks, according to a national survey released Sunday. Oil industry analyst Trilby Lundberg says regular gasoline, which peaked at $3.18 a gallon in May, dropped to $3 a gallon. Mid-grade averaged $3.11 and premium was $3.22.

A busy week ahead for Wall Street, topped by a two-day meeting of the Federal Reserve on Wednesday and Thursday and the launch of Apple's iPhone on Friday. Other reports scheduled this week include a final look at growth in the gross domestic product for the first quarter and new home sales during May.

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