Monday AM April 7th, 2008

Senate approves tax credits for companies affected by housing crisis…Shell Oil wins contract to sell jet fuel to military from Deer Park refinery…HomeVestors of America ranks Houston as second-best U.S. market for real estate investing…

A bill aimed at easing the housing crisis is getting some additions. The Senate has added two amendments offering tax breaks to Rust Belt manufacturers and Gulf Coast residents. By 76-2 vote, Senators approved a plan that would allow companies losing money to use tax credits to help offset new investments in plants and equipment. Then, by a 74-5 vote, the Senate approved an amendment aimed at Louisiana and Mississippi residents who receive grants to rebuild homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The measure would ensure that they do not have to pay taxes on those grants. Passage of the two amendments has senators lining up to offer more. The legislation is billed as helping homeowners facing foreclosure, but awards the overwhelming share of its tax breaks to businesses such as lenders and homebuilders.

The Texas Supreme Court has agreed to rehear a case from Jefferson County dealing with the scope of the state workers’ compensation law. The court has not yet set the date for new arguments but said Friday it will rehear Entergy Gulf States versus John Summers. Four lawmakers and the Texas AFL-CIO had asked the court in December to reverse its decision in the case. They said it incorrectly expanded liability protections for employers under state workers’ compensation laws. The Supreme Court ruled against Summers, a contract worker injured in a 2001 accident at an Entergy Gulf States plant in Bridge City. The court said Entergy was immune from a lawsuit seeking damages because summers was covered by an Entergy workers’ comp policy, but the lawmakers disagreed.

Shell Oil has won an $882.2 million, one-year contract to sell jet fuel to the U.S. military from its Deer Park refinery, according to Bloomberg. Two other smaller refiners were also awarded smaller jet fuel contracts covering the same period.

Eagle Rock Energy Partners is purchasing Stanolind Oil and Gas for $79 million, according to the Houston Business Journal. Midland-based Stanolind operates crude oil and natural gas producing properties in the Permian Basin.

Dallas-based HomeVestors of America ranks Houston as the second-best market in the United States for real estate investing, according to the Houston Business Journal. Dallas placed first. HomeVestors is the company with the “We Buy Ugly Houses” billboards. It bases the findings on the number of houses bought in each market by its 250-franchise network in the first quarter of 2008.

Opus West Corporation has broken ground on 24.7 acres in Missouri City for its Colonial Lakes Village project. The mixed-use development is at State Highway 6 and Colonial Lakes Drive. Colonial Lakes Village will include a 222-unit independent senior living community on 8.1 acres, as well as office condo space and retail space.

The bankruptcy of air carrier ATA has halted plans for a partnership with Southwest Airlines that would have put Southwest’s international hub in Baltimore. Under the arrangement, ATA would have offered inexpensive flights to Europe from BWI Marshall Airport. The Indianapolis-based airline filed Wednesday for Chapter 11 protection in Indiana U.S. bankruptcy court. The company ceased operations Thursday. The move is the latest blow to the international profile at BWI. Mexicana Airlines and North American Airlines suspended flights at BWI last May. Icelandair cut its Baltimore operations in December, and Air Greenland announced plans this year to pull out.

Operators of a Montana coal mine that fuels power plants in the upper midwest, and pumps money into the Crow Tribe, say they want to extend the mine’s life. Westmoreland Resources, which operates coal mines in North Dakota and near Jewett, Texas, wants to move operations southward, onto the Crow Indian Reservation. Federal and state regulators have released a draft environmental study of the proposal for the 34-year-old Absaloka Mine. It now operates within a 15,000-acre area next to the reservation in southeastern Montana. Extending the surface mine’s boundary onto the reservation would add about 3,600 acres. According to a recent notice in the Federal Register, the proposal by Westmoreland Resources would allow recovery of nearly 77 million tons of coal and would extend mining until about 2023. The Bureau of Indian Affairs says that without extending operations onto the reservation, mining could end within a few years for lack of coal to remove profitably. State and federal regulators plan a public hearing April 23rd in Hardin, Montana. BIA Environmental Manager Rick Stefanic says he knows of no opposition.

Houston-based AMEC Paragon’s international engineering and project management subsidiary has received a “Good Neighbor” award from the Spring Branch Independent School District. The company mobilized more than 45 employees to tutor almost 200 students in math and science, in preparation for the TAKS test. AMEC Paragon has partnered with SBISD for more than five years.

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