Thursday AM February 28th, 2008

Houston conference looks at climate change effect on business…Energy security summit gets underway at George R. Brown Convention Center; Hillary Clinton to address group…White House promises veto for follow-up economic stimulus bill…


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The British Consulate addressed implications of climate change and its effect on business in a conference at the Federal Reserve in Houston. James Cameron with the Carbon Disclosure Project says the United Kingdom has always had a good appreciation of the scientific base of the problem.

"At an early stage, a connection was made between the science and the policies through the agency, oddly enough, of Margaret Thatcher, the leader we had in the 80's, who was a strong leader with a very significant presence in the British psyche–whether you liked her or didn't. and she made clear statements of intent to deal with the climate change problem based upon good scientific understanding. And Britain led the intergovernmental panel on climate change work on the science, and I think we felt some pride in that association. And we never had a business constituency that argued against action on climate change in any meaningful way. So we skipped all that, and as a result we are ahead of those countries that did have a business lobby against doing something on climate change."

Cameron says the problem is diverse, and that means there must be a diversity of solutions.

"If we were all talking about one technology, we'd be making a mistake. The fact that we're looking at a big range and there seem to be economic incentives and profitable opportunities associated with deployment of those technologies is encouraging in and of itself. But of course, they've got to have the right policy infrastructure as well as ultimately the right physical infrastructure to enable those technologies to really flourish."

Also speaking at the conference was Shell Oil President John Hofmeister, who looks forward to today's summit at the George R. Brown on energy security, with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and others.

"It's the Greater Houston Partnership's opportunity to invite presidential candidates to come and give their story on their view of the energy future. Former (Commerce) Secretary Mosbacher will be giving a keynote address at noon. Keep in mind it's also focusing on conservation and environmental issues–we have the Sierra Club, among others, who will be there to talk about their views of the energy future. So it's really intended to bring the Houston community–the Energy Capital of the World–together, to have a day focused on our energy future."

Senator Clinton will end the day-long forum which will feature executives addressing energy supply, conservation and renewable energy sources.

The White House is promising to veto a bill seeking to follow up the recent economic stimulus package with several proposals to shore up the struggling housing market and reduce foreclosures. Senate Democrats had hoped to begin debate on the housing bill Wednesday, but action was been put off until later in the week. The Democratic bill would change bankruptcy laws to allow judges to cut interest rates and reduce what’s owed on troubled borrowers’ mortgages. It would also provide $4 billion to communities to purchase and rehabilitate foreclosed homes and improve disclosure of subprime mortgage loans. The White House says the provision rewriting the bankruptcy code would allow borrowers to effectively rewrite their mortgage contracts, leading lenders to tighten their standards and raise interest rates.

The federal regulator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac says it would lift restrictions later this week on the amount of mortgages the government-sponsored companies can hold on their books. Shares of Fannie and Freddie rose even after Fannie reported a nearly $3.6 billion loss in the fourth quarter of 2007 amid rising home-loan delinquencies. The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight says the two companies’ mortgage investment limits, currently at around a combined $1.5 billion, would be lifted effective Saturday. Freddie Mac is due to report is financial results on Thursday. The caps were imposed in 2006 in response to the companies’ multibillion-dollar accounting lapses. The effect was to limit their participation in the market for securities backed by home mortgages. Last fall, Democratic lawmakers had urged the government to lift those limits as a way to ease mortgage-market turmoil. Regulators allowed an increase, but it was smaller than those lawmakers wanted.

Manufacturers were seeing generally less demand last month, amid the broader slowdown in the economy. The Commerce Department says that orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket factory goods plunged 5.3 percent in January, the largest amount in five months. Declines were seen across a wide swath of industry from commercial aircraft and autos to heavy machinery and computers. Excluding the volatile transportation segment, orders were down a less severe 1.6 percent.

A Dallas-area test preparation company and the owner of the SAT and PSAT exams have agreed to a voluntary gag order after a week of public fighting over their dueling lawsuits. The agreement between Plano-based Karen Dillard College Prep and College Board means neither party can talk to others about their federal lawsuits. College Board filed suit last week in federal court in Dallas, accusing Dillard’s company of improperly using copyrighted College Board material to create its own test prep curriculum. College Board officials say Dillard built lesson plans on unauthorized copies of the SAT and PSAT. Dillard denied any wrongdoing and filed a countersuit Monday accusing College Board officials of obtaining her customer lists and business strategies from a disgruntled former employee. She says College Board is trying to drive her out of business.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has denied an El Paso County prosecutor’s request to investigate criminal allegations against an Arizona copper company. Asarco has a shuttered smelter in El Paso. El Paso County attorney Jose Rodriguez asked for the criminal probe in October, arguing that that Asarco broke federal and state environmental and health laws at the smelter. TCEQ denied the request this month after granting Asarco a new five-year air quality permit. That will allow the company to restart its El Paso copper smelter. Asarco officials have previously dismissed the allegations of wrongdoing.

Dynegy says its fourth-quarter loss narrowed, as revenue more than doubled and the power generator recorded a gain on facility sales. The Houston-based company on Wednesday reported a loss after paying preferred dividends of $46 million compared with a year-ago loss of $58 million. Revenue surged to $724 million from $343 million a year ago. The results missed estimates of analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial. They expected revenue of $898.5 million.

Even if you knew you wouldn’t get caught if you didn’t pay your taxes, would you pay anyway? Most Americans apparently would, judging from the results of a new survey by the IRS Oversight Board. Of the people who were surveyed last August, 95 percent agreed completely or mostly with the statement that it is every American’s civic duty to pay their fair share of taxes. That’s up one point from a similar survey taken a year earlier. More than 80 percent of the people who were surveyed said it’s not at all acceptable to cheat on your taxes. That’s down slightly from a year earlier. Eight percent said it’s okay to cheat “a little here and there,” and five percent supported cheating “as much as possible.” The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

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