Tuesday PM September 7th, 2010

Continental Airlines allows changes to flights affected by Tropical Storm Hermine…Retail gasoline prices continue dropping in Houston area…Capital One survey finds less optimism about business financial performance, but minimal effect from Gulf oil spill…


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Continental Airlines says storm conditions from heavy weather caused by Tropical Storm Hermine is expected to make air travel difficult in Texas, forcing some delays and cancellations of flights at airports in the region. Customers scheduled on flights to, from or through affected airports through tomorrow are permitted a one-time date or time change to their itinerary without penalty for flights rescheduled to originate by September 15th. Cancelled flights can be refunded. Automated trip alerts can be set up by email through the Houston-based airline’s Web site.

The city council of Tomball plans to debate an ordinance that would prevent illegal immigrants from owning or renting property and running businesses. At its meeting tonight, the Tomball City Council also planned to debate whether to make English the city’s official language and discuss the future of a city-run day labor site. The proposed ordinance against renting to illegal immigrants is similar to one a Dallas suburb tried to enforce. In March, a federal judge ruled that ordinance unconstitutional. The Tomball council member proposing the ordinances says he fully supports legal immigration. But critics are calling his proposals racist and reactionary.

Average retail gasoline prices continue dropping in Houston, falling 1.2 cents a gallon in the past week. reports the average price is at $2.43, compared with the national average of $2.68 per gallon. Houston gas prices are about 11 cents higher than at this same time a year ago.

Capital One’s quarterly Market Pulse survey indicates many Texas businesses experienced stable or improving financial performance, but their second quarter overall outlook is slightly less optimistic than in the first quarter. The survey suggests that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has had minimal negative impact on Texas businesses to date. But 42 percent of Texas consumers report their financial situation is worse than it was a year ago, up from 35 percent in the previous quarter. Four in ten report their savings have held steady, but 81 percent plan to hold off on large purchases like homes or cars or major appliances.

Britain’s leading oil industry association says it is unnecessary to impose a moratorium on drilling in the North Sea until the Gulf of Mexico spill is fully investigated. Malcolm Webb, the chief executive of Oil and Gas UK, told lawmakers that differences between U.S. and British regulation of deepwater drilling means “there’s no case for a moratorium.” Webb says that other countries could learn from British regulation, which is less prescriptive than in the United States but places the onus on operators to put in place procedures necessary to ensure safety. Webb is giving evidence to a cross-party committee of lawmakers that is looking into the implications of the Gulf of Mexico spill for drilling operations in the North Sea.

A new federal report says microbes that are gobbling up oil from the BP spill haven’t caused problems with oxygen loss in the Gulf of Mexico. Federal officials say some underwater oxygen levels have fallen by 20 percent, but the levels aren’t low enough to create dead zones. They say that’s good news because it shows the microbes are working, but aren’t causing oxygen loss. Steve Murawski, the scientist who headed the federal research team, said that means efforts to control the oil with dispersants hit the “sweet spot” they were aiming for. Scientists worried that if microbes had eaten too much, it would deplete the oxygen in deep water, choking fish. But more than 400 tests show that the oxygen levels weren’t dangerously low.

The Energy Department is awarding $575 million for carbon capture research-and-development projects in 15 states. The experimental technique involves storing carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants and other sources underground, in an attempt to reduce pollution blamed for contributing to global warming. Energy Secretary Steven Chu calls the money a “major step” in efforts to reduce carbon dioxide from industrial plants. Tt’s being funded from the economic stimulus law. President Barack Obama wants a cost-effective deployment of carbon capture and storage within ten years–despite questions about the technology and feasibility of the technique.

GOP leaders are blasting President Barack Obama’s long-term jobs proposal, saying the $50 billion plan would only raise federal spending that’s already in excess. Obama unveiled the plan at a Labor Day speech in Milwaukee, proposing the billions be spent on roads, railways and runways. Administration officials say even if Congress were to quickly approve the program, it wouldn’t produce jobs until sometime next year. But in addition to Republican opposition, many Congressional Democrats are unlikely to want to boost spending and increase federal deficits just weeks before elections that’ll determine control of Congress. Obama says Republicans are betting that between now and the November 2nd elections, Americans will forget the Republican economic policies that led to the recession. He says Republicans have opposed virtually everything he has done to help the economy, and have proposed solutions that have done nothing but, in his words, “rack up record deficits and result in the worst economic crisis since the great depression.”

President Barack Obama’s expected call for new tax breaks for business investments is already meeting with Republican opposition. Obama will unveil the plan tomorrow in Cleveland during a speech about the economy. An administration official says it would allow businesses to write off 100 percent of their new capital investments through 2011. It’s estimated the tax breaks would save businesses $200 billion over two years and allow them to have more cash on hand. But House Minority Leader John Boehner accuses the white house of “missing the big picture.” He says the administration should focus on reducing spending and uncertainty about its policies. The administration contends any money lost in tax revenue would be recouped as the economy strengthens.

The Obama administration is trying to jump-start its sputtering plan to tackle the foreclosure crisis with an effort to assist up to 1.5 million homeowners who owe more on their properties than their homes are worth. The Federal Housing Administration will allow lenders to give these “under water” borrowers refinanced loans if the lender agrees to forgive at least ten percent of the original mortgage amount. The plan was announced in March. The FHA said in a document published last month that between 500,000 and 1.5 million homeowners are projected to be helped. However, the Obama administration’s previous efforts to stem foreclosures have fallen far short of expectations.

Oracle has hired former Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd to help lead the database software maker as it tries to muscle in on more of HP’s turf. Hurd’s appointment as co-president of Oracle comes a month after he resigned from HP following a sexual harassment investigation. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison loudly came to Hurd’s defense at the time, calling HP’s decision to oust Hurd the worst personnel decision since Apple forced out Steve Jobs–another of Eellison’s friends–25 years ago. Oracle and HP are longtime partners, working together for 25 years to make sure their products are in sync. But Hurd’s new job underscores the growing fissure between the Silicon Valley heavyweights.

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