Wednesday PM July 2nd, 2008

Supreme Court denies request to stop BP's criminal conduct plea agreement from 2005 Texas City explosion…American Airlines could cut 900 flight attendant jobs…World Petroleum Congress told renewable energy is only part of solution…

The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a request by victims of the deadly 2005 explosion at the Texas City BP plant to stop a settlement of criminal conduct in the case. Attorneys for blast victims had asked the court for a 60-day delay of a lower court’s decision to send the case back to a Houston judge so she can decide whether to give final approval to the plea agreement. But in a one sentence order, the Supreme Court denied the request for a delay. This means U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal is now free to decide whether to approve the agreement. The much-criticized plea deal calls for a $50 million fine and sentences BP to three years’ probation for its role in the blast, which killed 15 people and injured more than 170.

American Airlines announced it could cut 900 flight attendant jobs while reducing its schedule to cope with record high fuel costs. Fort Worth-based American says job cuts are necessary to overcome near-term challenges and secure the company’s long-term future. The nation’s largest carrier expects to reduce jobs for pilots and mechanics too, but it hasn’t released numbers yet. American in May announced it will cut capacity by up to 12 percent later this year, retire some planes and cut an unspecified number of jobs. Federal law requires employers to give 60 days notice of major layoffs. The flight attendants union received notice today of job reductions that could start August 31st. Airlines and union officials say they’ll try to reduce layoffs through attrition or by employees voluntarily taking leaves of absence or sharing jobs. American has about 18,000 active flight attendants.

The chairman of Douglas-Westwood says renewable energy is not a magic bullet, but it’s an essential element in addressing security of supply issues. John Westwood told delegates at the World Petroleum Congress in Madrid, Spain, that energy security involves adopting a portfolio of energy sources—oil, gas, coal, nuclear and renewables, with no individual source offering the answer. He says “as everyone knows, it’s foolish to bet your pension on one investment.”

The actors’ union and Broadway theater producers have reached a tentative agreement for a new 39-month contract that covers Broadway shows and touring productions. Actors’ Equity Association and the Broadway League, which represents both producers and theater owners, had been negotiating past the deadline of midnight Sunday, when the last contract expired. The contract agreement, announced in a joint statement, averts the possibility of a strike. Stagehands walked off the job in November, shutting down more than two dozen Broadway shows for 19 days and costing producers and the city of New York millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Blockbuster is withdrawing its proposal to acquire Circuit City stores. Chief Executive James Keyes says based on market conditions and the completion of its due diligence process, the company decided it wasn’t in the best interest of Blockbuster shareholders to acquire Richmond, Virginia-based Circuit City. Keyes says Blockbuster still believes in the merits of bringing media content and electronic devices together under one brand. And he says the company will pursue that strategy through its stores “as a way to diversify the business and better serve the entertainment retail segment.” Blockbuster announced a bid of more than $1 billion for Circuit City in April, with plans to create a 9,300-store chain that could sell portable devices and entertainment for them.

A Texas poultry producer gave $100,000 to a group led by Governor Rick Perry, who later sought a waiver of federal ethanol mandates. Critics say those mandates are driving up the cost of corn. The Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News obtained nearly 600 pages of records from the governor’s office through the Texas Public Information Act. Lonnie “Bo” Pilgrim on March 31st made the $100,000 donation to the Republican Governors Association. Pilgrim’s Pride of Pittsburg, Texas, is the nation’s largest chicken producer. Perry’s staff later began preparing the renewable fuel standards waiver request for the Environmental Protection Agency, Perry aide Allison Castle says political donors get nothing but “good government” from Perry. She says Perry asked for the waiver because of ethanol’s potential negative impact on livestock and poultry producers.

Baker Hughes in Houston says the number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. rose by eight this week–to reach 1,921. Baker Hughes released the rig count earlier than usual because of the July 4th holiday on Friday. One year ago the rig count stood at 1,752. Texas added eight rigs.

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