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Friday PM January 1st, 2010

Tugboat captain and second mate relieved of duty after running aground near Exxon Valdez site…Biodiesel refining industry operating at 15 per cent capacity…Banks borrowing less from Federal Reserve…



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A tugboat captain and second mate have been relieved of duty after their vessel ran aground on the same reef as the Exxon Valdez 20 years ago. The tug Pathfinder was scouting for ice along Alaska’s oil shipping lanes December 23rd when it ran aground on Bligh Reef. It spilled an estimated 100 gallons of diesel fuel. The tug’s operator, Crowley Marine, says the two crew members are not being paid. Their names have not been released. Crowley tells Anchorage television station KTUU that it will decide if the two should be put back on the job when it has a better understanding of what happened. The Exxon Valdez disaster remains the nation’s worst oil spill. Nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil flowed into Prince William Sound when the 987-foot tanker struck Bligh Reef in 1989.

An alternative fuel for diesel engines is off to a shaky start this year–even though it emits fewer pollutants and cuts down on petroleum use because it’s made from environmentally friendly waste and vegetable oil. A federal tax credit that provided makers of biodiesel $1 for every gallon expired today. As a result, some U.S. producers say they will shut down without the government subsidy. Biodiesel’s woes come on top of a year of problems for the fledgling biofuel industry. A key driver for the alternative fuel–the high cost of oil–disappeared as diesel prices dropped 18 per cent since the beginning of the recession. Then in March the European Union placed import-killing tariffs on biodiesel and other biofuels. The National Biodiesel Board says the biodiesel industry is now operating at only 15 per cent of its potential capacity. The country’s largest biodiesel refinery, in Houston, sits idle.

Banks borrowed slightly less from the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending program over the past week. The Fed says commercial banks averaged $18.74 billion in daily borrowing over the week that ended Wednesday. That was down from $18.75 billion the previous week. As financial stresses have eased, so has banks’ use of the program. At the height of the credit crisis last year, they borrowed $110 billion. Banks pay interest of just 0.50 per cent on the emergency loans. The identities of the banks aren’t released.

It’s official: Kraft Foods will sponsor of the upcoming demolition of Texas Stadium. The Irving City Council voted unanimously to contract with the makers of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese to sponsor the scheduled March implosion. The stadium known for the hole in the roof was home of the Dallas Cowboys until they moved into their fancy new stadium in Arlington this season. Mayor Herbert Gears says Kraft’s advertising campaign is expected to bring in more than $1 million worth of national exposure to Irving. A Kraft official says the company’s excited about the deal.

Tons of Chinese-made goods, from computers to catfish, flow west. But American ginseng goes the other way. U.S. farmers grow about 650,000 pounds of the bitter root each year, most of it in Wisconsin. They rely almost exclusively on sales to China. And after years of declining profits due to new competition from Canadian and Chinese farmers, those in Wisconsin are defending their brand and hoping to tap a growing Chinese middle-class market. To do this, they’ve cut a deal with a 360-year-old Chinese pharmacy that once served China’s emperors. The deal gives Tong Ren Tang the exclusive right to sell 400,000 pounds of Wisconsin ginseng in more than 1,000 stores over the next five years. The company says it will position the Wisconsin root as a premium product.