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Thursday AM July 3rd, 2008

Report says housing recession and record oil prices prompt increase in firings…President Bush blames Congress for stalling offshore oil drilling…Continental Airlines pilots align with United pilots…

Some 79,000 jobs were cut nationwide in June, according to ADP Employer Service, as reported in the Houston Chronicle. The survey says the biggest housing recession in a quarter century and record oil prices are prompting an increase in firings. Service providers cut 3,000 workers, financial services companies fired 3,000 employees and construction employment fell by 34,000. ADP Employer Service says there’s a 90 percent correlation between its data and the government’s monthly figures.

Orders to U.S. factories turned in the weakest performance in three months in May, reflecting slumping demand for autos, heavy machinery and steel. The Commerce Department reported that factory orders rose by 0.6 percent in May, less than half the gains turned in during April and March. It was the poorest showing since factory orders had fallen by 0.4 percent in February. The May performance was in line with expectations. Economists are watching to see how big an impact the overall economic slowdown will have on manufacturing, which has been hurt by troubles in the auto industry and housing-related industries.

President Bush says Congress has to accept some of the blame for rising gas prices. Speaking at a Rose Garden news conference, Bush says lawmakers continue to block his proposals–including lifting prohibitions on offshore oil drilling. Bush says the shortages can be alleviated by drilling for oil and gas in the United States. But he said, “the democratically controlled Congress now has refused to budge.” The president appealed to voters to lobby their Congressional representatives on the matter.

Iran’s oil minister is warning that any attack on his country by the United States or Israel will provoke a fierce response. Oil minister Gholam Hossein Nozari also says military moves against Tehran will further roil already volatile oil markets that are seeing new price records almost daily. He spoke to reporters outside the 19th World Petroleum Congress in Madrid, Spain, which is looking for answers on how to stabilize prices and ensure secure supplies of energy for the future.

America’s top admiral in the Persian Gulf says the U.S. and its allies will not allow Iran to choke off oil shipments. Fifth Fleet Commander Kevin Cosgriff is meeting with the heads of Gulf navies in the United Arab Emirates. They’re looking at trade route security and terrorism. Faced with threats of outside force to stop its nuclear program, Iran has threatened to shut down the vital Strait of Hormuz if attacked. Fully 40 percent of the world’s oil shipped by tanker goes through that narrow waterway. And as Cosgriff puts it, “we will not allow Iran to close it.” There have been sporadic run-ins between Iranian sailors and the three dozen U.S. warships on patrol duty in the Gulf. The admiral says he’s concerned about Iran’s ability to control its own forces, but warns “every U.S. captain is fully ready to defend his or her ship.”

Pilots at Continental Airlines are aligning with United pilots. Both groups are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association. United and Continental are linking their networks and operations worldwide, with Continental joining the Star Alliance. The ALPA represents nearly 55,000 pilots at 40 airlines in the United States and Canada.

Bucking a national trend of airlines cutting flights, Continental Airlines is adding service in upstate New York. Houston-based Continental is returning to the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport in October and will fly four nonstop routes daily to Newark’s Liberty Airport. Continental used to serve Ithaca but left town in 1996. Ithaca Air Service Board President Larry Baum says the decision to bring service back to the city is the result of a recent move by the airline to increase international travel. Baum says Ithaca beat out Elmira and Binghamton for the service. Baum says the large student population at Cornell University boosts the number of international travelers using the airport.

The Houston Independent School District is holding a job fair today to search for certified science and career and technology teachers for the new Sam Houston Math, Science and Technology Center and the new Ninth Grade Academy. The event is at HISD’s Irvington location, and applicants are advised to come prepared to interview. Recruitment incentives of up to $8,500 and teacher performance pay of up to $10,000 are available for qualified teachers. The two new schools will have open enrollment—any student in the district can apply for admission.

Governor Rick Perry says a Brazilian textiles company will open a denim manufacturing plant in Edinburg that will create 800 jobs. Perry made the announcement that the state is giving $1.65 million to Santana Textiles to make its $170 million investment. It will be the first U.S. plant for the world’s fifth-largest denim producer.

Oncor says it will refund about $72 million this fall to residential customers who have gotten power from the company since December. Oncor, the electric delivery arm of Energy Future Holdings, said that eligible customers should get their credit–about $12.58 each–on their September electric bills. To qualify for the refund, customers must also still be served at the same location by a retail electrical provider that agrees to pass on the refund. If retail electric providers don’t agree to pass the credit on to consumers, they won’t get the money. Oncor says that the agreement to pass on the credit was made as part of Oncor’s merger review filing.

Southwestern Electric Power Company has applied for a permit to build a 29-mile electric transmission line between a planned coal-fired power plant in southwestern Arkansas and an electric substation near Texarkana. SWEPCO wants to build the 345-kilovolt line to a site in Bowie County, Texas. The line could cost as much as $30.8 million. The line would run from Leary, Texas, through Miller, Little River and Hempstead Counties in Arkansas. That’s according to a filing SWEPCO made with the Arkansas Public Service Commission. Hempstead County Hunting Club attorney Chuck Nestrud opposes the transmission line and believes it should have been part of the original application for the $1.5 billion, 600-megawatt power plant. SWEPCO serves 112,000 Arkansas customers and 340,000 customers in Louisiana and Texas. SWEPCO is awaiting Arkansas approval of an air-quality permit and has begun site work on about 3,000 acres in Hempstead County.

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