Monday PM June 30th, 2008

Poll reveals nervousness about cost of energy…Government says high corn prices will drive up food prices…BBC World News to record Houston debate this evening called "The World Debate: What future for oil, time to refuel?"…

Nine in ten people in an Associated Press-Yahoo! news poll expect the ballooning costs to bite them financially over the next six months. Nearly half think the hardship will be serious. To cope, most are driving less, easing off the air conditioning and heating at home and cutting corners elsewhere. Half are scaling back vacation plans; nearly as many are considering buying cars that burn less gas. Two-thirds now consider gas prices an extremely important issue, edging the economy and outpacing health care and Iraq as the country’s most distressing problem. In November, when gas cost about $1 a gallon less than today, just under half rated it extremely important. Oil prices have spiked above $143 a barrel for the first time.

Expect high corn prices to drive up some food prices this year. The government says farmers will harvest nearly nine percent fewer acres of corn this year than last, in part because Midwest flooding has damaged a portion of the crop. An agriculture economist with Iowa State University says the USDA report shows that farmers planted more corn than they had anticipated but that some of it was washed away in the floods. The report says spring rainfall totaled 20 inches or more from eastern Oklahoma into the lower Ohio Valley, disrupting planting and other spring field work. It says unfavorable wetness also hampered soybean planting efforts. Corn futures jumped from $6 a bushel in early June to $7.55 for the July contract on Friday.

BBC World News is recording an hour-long debate this evening in Houston called “The World Debate: What future for oil, time to refuel?” Taping is being done at The Corinthian on Fannin with BBC World News America presenter Matt Frei. The program will be broadcast on BBC America on Saturday July 12th and Sunday July 13th. Panel members will include Shell U.S. President Marvin Odum, Mayor Bill White, and Baker Institute Senior Fellow Amy Jaffe. Frei says “at a time when America is struggling to understand the world–and the world America–the BBC offers a uniquely global perspective to a U.S. audience looking for answers.”

President Bush is thanking members of Congress from both parties for sending him a bill to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The $162 billion plan funds operations through the end of his presidency and beyond. Bush signed it in an oval office ceremony, saying it “shows the American people that even in an election year, Republicans and Democrats can come together.” He said the nation “has no greater responsibility than to support” its troops and their families. According to Congressional officials, the legislation brings the total Congress has provided for the Iraq war to more than $650 billion, while operations in Afghanistan have totaled nearly $200 billion. The package also doubles GI bill college benefits for troops and veterans. It also includes a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits, $2.7 billion in flood relief for the Midwest and many other items.

Truck drivers protesting soaring fuel prices have slowed highway traffic outside Paris and other French cities. Labor union officials say 40 protests nationwide are designed to win reductions in gasoline taxes and other government measures to offset rising world fuel prices. France’s Traffic Information Center says truckers who were driving at a snail’s pace brought highway traffic to a near-standstill on highways around the French capital. Protesters also blockaded highways in the southeastern Rhone-Alpes region and in other parts of eastern France. The protests Monday were a continuation of weeks of protests over high fuel prices.

Now that some airlines are making money on checked baggage, they plan to crack down on people who try to stuff over-sized bags in the overhead bins. The airlines note the carry-on policy is a federal one not set by the industry. But they agree it’s only fair to the honest, fee-paying customer to keep others from trying to sneak bulky bags onto planes. The fees for checking bags were introduced to help cover soaring jet fuel prices. If a passenger is stopped from boarding with an oversize carry-on, Fort Worth-based American Airlines will charge that passenger the $15 fee to check it at the gate. Chicago-based United hasn’t decided how to handle that, but Phoenix-based US Airways says its passengers can check those bags for free at the gate.

Mayor Phil Hardberger is hoping to make the Alamo City tops in the state in solar production. He tells the San Antonio Express-News that he thinks it is time to start building a solar plant. CPS Energy wants to set a goal of producing 100 megawatts of solar energy by 2020. The company plans to begin looking for suitors for a large solar plant in the next few months. CPS Energy began a solar rebate program a year ago to promote rooftop arrays, but so far only nine homes and businesses have put in solar panels. Austin has solar power on nearly 600 rooftops. It’s rebate program began in 2004.

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