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Monday August 8th, 2005

President Bush signs energy bill that even supporters say will have little impact on energy prices…Oil prices hit another all-time high…Newspaper says documents reveal more frequent maintenance at BP’s Texas City plant could have prevented recent explosion… President Bush has signed into law a bipartisan energy bill that he admits won’t solve the nation’s energy […]


President Bush signs energy bill that even supporters say will have little impact on energy prices…Oil prices hit another all-time high…Newspaper says documents reveal more frequent maintenance at BP’s Texas City plant could have prevented recent explosion…

President Bush has signed into law a bipartisan energy bill that he admits won’t solve the nation’s energy problems ”overnight.” Supporters say the new law will re-focus national energy priorities and promote cleaner alternative sources of energy. But even the bill’s sponsors acknowledge the measure will have little impact–if any–on today’s energy prices or reduce dependence on oil imports. Speaking at a bill-signing ceremony in New Mexico, Bush said it will ”take years of focused efforts” to solve such national energy challenges. Passage of the nearly 2,000-page measure ended a year-long standoff in Congress over a national energy policy. The measure provides billions of dollars in tax subsidies to energy companies. It also requires utilities to follow federal regulation–as opposed to self-regulation. It’s an effort to reduce the chances of power blackouts, such as the one that struck the Midwest and Northeast two summers ago.

The Texas Alliance of Energy Producers says the energy bill clarifies how upfront geophysical costs can be treated at tax time, as the group’s Alex Mills explains.

Alex Mills audio 1

Mills says oil and natural gas producers are generally happy about the bill.

Alex Mills audio 2

Mills says there are several winners with the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Alex Mills audio 3

Environmentalists describe the new energy bill provisions as steps in the right direction–but only just ”baby steps.” The lukewarm praise goes to measures giving consumers tax credits for buying hybrid gasoline-electric cars and requiring better efficiency standards for appliances. But an officer with the Wilderness Society calls these ”small gestures.” Steve Smith says the bill doesn’t do enough to promote conservation. He says the measure falls short on protecting water resources.

Oil prices have hit another all-time high in trading this morning. On the New York Mercantile Exchange, the price of a barrel of light crude has broken through $63. This comes as the U. S. announced it was closing its embassy and consulates in Saudi Arabia today and tomorrow because of security threats. There are also continuing concerns that earlier shutdowns of American oil refineries will reduce supply. At least seven U. S. refineries have reported problems of one kind or another in the last two weeks. Oil prices have risen even though OPEC said Friday that it increased oil production by 300,000 barrels a day in the last two weeks.

Houston Mayor Bill White says he got everything he wanted in the federal highway bill approved by Congress. President Bush has promised to sign the bill. Texas is in line to get $50 billion for transit programs. The Associated Press reports at least $347 million of that is earmarked for landscaping, pedestrian and bike projects. The bill includes $245 million to expand Houston’s public transit and another $23 million to make freeways look better. Houston will take in another $5.5 million to make it easier to walk and bike around the Bayou City. Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority is expected to receive the funds it needs to expand. The first light rail line, which runs from Reliant Stadium through downtown to a University of Houston campus, was built without federal assistance.

More frequent maintenance at a BP plant in Texas City may have prevented an explosion last month. That’s according to a review of state documents by the Houston Chronicle. The newspaper found that part of the plant was the site of many malfunctions. BP said last week that the July 28th blast–which caused no injuries–happened because of a mistake during maintenance. A March 23rd blast in a unit at the plant that boosts the octane level of gasoline killed 15 contractors and injured more than 170 workers.

A grant from the Texas Enterprise Fund reportedly was awarded in part to a company whose investors include some campaign donors to Governor Rick Perry. The story is reported today by the Houston Chronicle. The $50 million grant approved by Perry created the Texas Institute for Genomic Medicine. The private non-profit Research Institute involves The Woodlands-based Lexicon Genetics and Texas A&M. Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt says political contributions had nothing to do with the Lexicon grant. The Chronicle reports that the grant proposal was arranged by an aide to Congressman Kevin Brady of The Woodlands. The newspaper reports Brady held shares of Lexicon since 2000, but divested them during negotiations with Perry’s office. Both elected officials are Republican. Lexicon investors include Perry donors such as Houston Texans owner Robert McNair, businessman William McMinn and the estate of businessman Gordon Cain and his family.

Phyton Biotech this fall will move its headquarters from Fort Worth to Princeton, New Jersey. The company also announced it’s hiring three more scientists to manage its research and development operations. The move and new hires are aimed at expanding beyond the company’s current focus, which is producing the active ingredient in the cancer drug Taxol–Paclitaxel. Phyton uses its technology for growing large numbers of plant cells to make products for the pharmaceutical and biotech industries.

San Antonio finally gets to experience the economic euphoria that Dallas, Austin and Houston have enjoyed so many times over the years. Ever since Toyota announced plans for a pickup truck plant back in early 2003, the Alamo City has been on a fast-lane thrill ride for local business boosters used to slow and bumpy growth. Former Mayor Henry Cisneros–who served as Housing Secretary under President Clinton–says “it’s like our moment has arrived.” Such grand pronouncements of pending prosperity are nothing new here. They were heard in 1968 as the city hosted Hemisfair world’s fair and again a decade ago when the North American Free Trade Agreement unleashed a heavy commercial flow north from Mexico. But this time around, many believe there are enough good things happening that San Antonio may at last realize its decades-long dream–a place among America’s major cities.

El Paso Corporation today posted a second-quarter loss of $246 million. Houston-based El Paso reversed a slim year-ago profit. El Paso also says the Securities and Exchange Commission has requested additional information about the company’s role in the Iraqi Oil-for-Food program. El Paso operates the nation’s largest gas transport system. The company, which is undergoing corporate restructuring, reported a loss after preferred dividends of 38 cents per share. That’s down from net income of $5 million in the second quarter of last year. Revenue slid 20 percent.

The former head of the Iraqi Oil-for-Food program has been accused of corruption and taking kickbacks. The independent inquiry commission, headed by former Federal Reserve Chief Paul Volcker, says Benon Sevan’s finances were “precarious” shortly before he allegedly took tens of thousands of dollars in bribes from a company involved in the program. Volcker wants UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to waive Sevan’s diplomatic immunity. Annan has done just that for a former Oil-for-Food procurement official accused of taking nearly $1 million in bribes. Annan’s chief-of-staff says the official, Alexander Yakovlev, has apparently been taken into custody.

Electricity and natural-gas provider Dynegy said today its second-quarter profit rose fifteen-fold from the previous year’s quarter. But the Houston-based company says that results from a tax benefit resulting from the anticipated sale of its midstream natural-gas business. It actually reports an operating loss worse than Wall Street expected. Dynegy says its second-quarter net income came in at $32 million. But the loss from continuing operations totaled $109 million. Revenue fell by one-third to $459 million. Dynegy expects full-year earnings of $400 million to $410 million. That’s up from its previous estimated loss of about $410 million to $395 million. Again, it credits the expected $815 million gain from the midstream sale. Dynegy announced last Tuesday that it would sell its midstream unit for about $2.48 billion to Targa Resources.