Texas Business Report: Save the Buffalo
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It’s no longer legal to shoot stray bison that wander onto your land, thanks to a new law that went into effect September 1. Senate Bill 174 adds the grazers to the state’s list of protected “estray livestock” animals, requiring anyone who finds them running loose to round them up and attempt to return them to their owner (or have the sheriff do it). Unclaimed animals can be auctioned off after two weeks, The Texas Tribune reports.
The Sheriffs’ Association of Texas opposed the bill out of concern that it could be dangerous to wrangle the sometimes aggressive animals. But the law includes an exception that permits the shooting of bison “if a perilous condition exists.” (If you’re eager for more details about the new law, the Tribune put together an animated video that outlines the key points.)
The Bottom Line: The legislation was inspired by cases such as a 2010 incident in King County, in which a cattle rancher shot 51 bison that had wandered into his pasture. As the price of bison meat is quickly rising—a 1,000-pound animal is currently valued at about $2,300—it can be devastating for bison ranchers to take that kind of loss. One rancher interviewed by the Tribune said, “We’ve got a big chunk of our money tied up in those animals, and we can’t afford for some yahoo to shoot them if they [happen] to get out.”
More Pharm than Good
A Michigan-based pharmaceutical corporation will pay out a $5 million settlement to Texas and the federal government to resolve claims of Medicaid fraud, the Houston Business Journal reports. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott claims Major Pharmaceuticals Inc. knowingly misreported inflated prices of Medicaid-covered generic drugs. As a result, the lawsuit claimed, the government healthcare program “was overcharged for certain of Major’s products” and reimbursed pharmacies at inflated rates.
Major continues to deny the allegations and does not admit to any wrongdoing in the settlement agreement.
The Bottom Line: The pharmacy Ven-A-Care of the Florida Keys Inc. has blown the whistle on several drug companies involved in Medicare fraud since the mid-1990s, including this case with Major. As a result, Bloomberg reports, the pharmacy has helped the U.S. government recover more than $3 billion in taxpayer money.
An international tribunal ruled this week that the Venezuelan government “failed to act in good faith or properly compensate” Houston-based ConocoPhillips when it took over three of the company’s oil projects in 2007, Reuters reports.
ConocoPhillips was seeking up to $30 billion for the stakes expropriated under the regime of former President Hugo Chavez, but the government refused to pay more than $2 billion. In its ruling this week, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes did not stipulate how much Venezuela must pay the oil giant, and experts predict that figure might not be determined for another year or two.
The Bottom Line: Venezuela, which plans to appeal the decision, is involved in more than 20 pending arbitration cases with foreign oil companies, including Texas-based ExxonMobil. The country has reached deals with Chevron and other corporations that agreed “to pay higher taxes and royalties, and give up majority stakes in projects while hanging onto minority ones,” according to Reuters.
Winners of the Week: Longhorns Fans
More than two years after its launch, the Longhorn Network is finally available to most cable subscribers in the Horns’ hometown. Time Warner Cable, Austin’s largest cable TV provider, reached an agreement to carry the channel on the eve of the University of Texas’ first home football game of the season last Saturday. LHN broadcasts UT sports and other related programming 24 hours a day and, until now, has only been available through smaller providers including Grande Communications and AT&T U-Verse.
The channel’s owner, ESPN, has been in a stalemate with Time Warner since 2011 over the cost of broadcasting the network, which is expected to bring in about $300 million to UT over the next two decades, the Austin Business Journal reports. Financial terms of the deal have not been made public.
Losers of the Week: Uranium Miners
Uranium Energy Corp. is scaling down its uranium mining and processing operations in Texas as prices have plunged more than twenty percent so far this year to a seven-year low, Businessweek reports. The Vancouver-based company blames the drop-off on decreased demand for nuclear fuel from Japanese plants damaged in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Uranium Energy, which operates six uranium mines and one processing plant in southeast Texas between Corpus Christi and San Antonio, is “assessing its exploration projects and looking at both possible acquisitions and selling off some assets. Executives expect the market to rebound when Japanese regulators allow more nuclear plants to reopen.