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Monday PM June 29th, 2009

Houston judge delays decision on revoking bond for R. Allen Stanford…BP agrees to court order forcing end to what state calls "illegal emissions" at Texas City refinery…Justice Department opposing Continental’s request for antitrust immunity to work with other carriers on international service…

A federal judge says he will decide by Tuesday afternoon on whether to revoke a bond for Texas financier R. Allen Stanford that would let him be free while he awaits trial on charges he swindled investors out of $7 billion. U.S. District Judge David Hittner heard more than four hours of arguments in which prosecutors asked him to revoke an order granting Stanford a $500,000 bond. They argued his international ties make him a serious flight risk. But Dick DeGuerin, Stanford’s attorney, says his client, who is broke because all his assets have been seized, has a very strong incentive to stay: to clear his name and restore his finances.

BP Products North America has agreed to a court order forcing the petrochemical giant to end what state officials say are illegal emissions at its Texas City refinery. The temporary injunction filed in district court in Austin on Monday ensures BP will follow environmental laws while the state’s pollution lawsuit plays out in court. Under the agreement, BP will review 53 pollution violations cited in the state’s lawsuit and improve air monitoring systems and reporting procedures. One of those violations is tied to a March 2005 explosion that killed 15 workers and injured 170 others. The Texas attorney general said BP’s refinery near Houston spewed hundreds of thousands of pounds of pollutants. BP has not admitted liability or guilt. The company calls the agreement an important step and says it is working to resolve the matter in a way that satisfies the state and the company.

U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced that more federal safety inspectors will arrive in Texas next month to begin stepped-up enforcement of safety standards. Solis said Monday the inspectors will concentrate on construction sites and will focus on unsafe scaffolds, trenches and other risks. More construction workers died in Texas than in another other state. Last year, 67 workers died at job sites. So far, 33 have died this year. Solis, who was speaking at the American Society of Safety Engineers conference in San Antonio, said she’s particularly concerned with the rapid increase of fatalities among Hispanic workers.

It’s a decision that could reverberate through human resources departments nationwide. The Supreme Court has ruled that white firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut, were unfairly denied promotions because of their race. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled the city was wrong to scrap a promotion exam because no African-Americans and only two Latino firefighters were likely to be made lieutenants or captains based on the results. The city had argued it was trying to avoid a lawsuit from minorities. The ruling could alter employment practices nationwide and make it harder to prove discrimination when there is no evidence it was intentional. The justices’ split decision reversed potential colleague Sonia Sotomayor’s earlier ruling in the case. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s ruling only made fleeting reference to the Supreme Court nominee’s 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals work in favor of New Haven’s argument.

The Justice Department is opposing Continental’s broad request for antitrust immunity to work more closely with United Airlines and other carriers on international service. The department says the airlines should get more limited immunity. It argues that broader immunity could hurt competition on other routes including between the U.S. and China and even raise fares within the United States. The impact of the Justice Department stance was hard to know for certain. It was disclosed in a regulatory filing late Friday. The final decision on Continental’s request for immunity to join United’s Alliance of other airlines rests with the Transportation Department. The Transportation Department gave preliminary approval to the request several weeks ago, but soon after that the Justice Department signaled that it wanted a chance to study the proposal. Continental, the nation’s fourth-largest airline, wants antitrust immunity to cooperate with United and other Star Alliance airlines in setting prices and schedules for international service. Other members of the Star Alliance include US Airways, Lufthansa and Air Canada.

Ford’s top sales analyst says June was the industry’s best month of the year, with sales falling less than 30 per cent. George Pipas says the decline from a year earlier marks the smallest drop since September 2008. He says sales for Ford were “good.” He says that the industry’s annualized light vehicle sales rate could hit ten million as retail sales of vehicles improve.

Nigerian militants have attacked and damaged an offshore oil platform belonging to Royal Dutch Shell in the southern Restive oil region. Shell spokesman Precious Okolobo confirmed the attack early Monday on the company’s facilities and said production had been partially shut down. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta militants say their attack sank a military gunboat, resulting in some casualties, but local authorities did not immediately confirm that. The attack came days after Nigeria’s government announced a 60-day amnesty for militants willing to turn themselves in. But the movement dismissed the offer, saying the amnesty should be aimed at criminals, not “freedom fighters.” The group says it is not ready to negotiate.

No more asking around the office for the right sort of charger: at least that’s what European Union and cell phone makers are hoping. The world’s leading mobile phone makers announced that they’ll ensure that their data-enabled phones and chargers will all work together, as of next year. EU Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said a standardized charger will cut costs for manufacturers and reduce the number of chargers thrown away when consumers buy new phones. Though the agreement applies to the EU, it’s likely that the standardization will apply to phones and chargers sold outside the member countries. Dallas-based Texas Instruments and San Diego-based Qualcomm make components for cell phones, and they’ve signed the deal with the EU.

Hollywood studios and television networks have lost a Supreme Court bid to block the use of a new digital video recorder system that could make it cheaper and easier for viewers to record shows and watch them when they want, without commercials. The justices say they will not disturb a federal appeals court ruling that Cablevision Systems Corporation’s remote-storage DVR does not violate copyright laws. For consumers, the action means that cablevision and perhaps other cable system operators soon will be able to offer DVR service without need for a box in their homes. The remote storage unit exists on computer servers maintained by a cable provider.

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