- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 30, 2012

CONCORD — Nearly a decade after it was first brought, a lawsuit accusing two oil giants of widespread groundwater contamination in New Hampshire is expected to present jurors with the most complex and time-consuming trial in state history.

The state sued 26 oil companies and subsidiaries in 2003. It claimed the gasoline additive MTBE caused widespread groundwater contamination in a state where 60 percent of the population relies on private wells for drinking water.

All but ExxonMobil and Citgo have reached settlement agreements.

New Hampshire is seeking more than $700 million in damages to test and monitor every private well and public drinking water system in the state and to cover cleanup costs where needed.

New Hampshire’s is the first MTBE suit brought by a state to reach the trial stage.

CHINA

Firm to acquire major African iron ore mine

BEIJING | State media say a Chinese company is finalizing the acquisition of an Australian mining firm that controls a major iron ore mine in West Africa, a move that would give China a stronger role in setting global iron ore prices.

The official Xinhua News Agency, citing officials from Hanlong Group, says Hanlong will complete the acquisition of Sundance Resources Ltd. for 50 cents per share by March 1.

Sundance controls the Mbalam iron ore mine, which straddles Cameroon and the Republic of Congo.

Xinhua said Saturday that Hanlong is investing $5 billion to develop the Mbalam project — most likely in partnership with Chinese state-owned companies — and build a 340-mile railway and a shipping port.

China is eager to acquire overseas resources to feed its growth.

FRANCE

French panel rejects 75 percent tax on ultrarich

PARIS — Embattled French President Francois Hollande suffered a fresh setback Saturday when France’s highest court threw out a plan to tax the ultrawealthy at a 75 percent rate, saying it was unfair.

In a stinging rebuke to one of Socialist Hollande’s flagship campaign promises, the constitutional council ruled Saturday that the way the highly contentious tax was designed was unconstitutional. It was intended to hit incomes exceeding $1.32 million.

The largely symbolic measure would have only hit a tiny number of taxpayers and brought in an estimated $132 million to $396 million — an insignificant amount in the context of France’s roughly $112 billion deficit.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault was quick to respond, saying in a statement following the decision the government would resubmit the measure to take the court’s concerns into account. The court’s ruling took issue not with the size of the tax, but with the way it discriminated between households depending on how incomes were distributed among its members. A household with two earners each making under $1.32 million would be exempt from the tax, while one with one earner making $1.58 million would have to pay.

SAUDI ARABIA

Qatar Airways, Gulf Air win domestic licenses

JEDDAH — The Saudi aviation authority has awarded Qatar Airways and Bahrain’s Gulf Air licenses to operate domestic flights in the vast desert kingdom.

The national carriers of the two neighboring Gulf states will be the first foreign airlines to operate domestic flights in the oil-rich nation, competing mainly with the government-owned Saudia and budget carrier NAS.

“The best bids came from Gulf Air and its partners, and Qatar Airways,” the General Authority of Civil Aviation said in a statement late on Friday.

It said 14 companies had competed for the licenses, adding that the decision took into consideration the accumulated experience of the companies in air transport, as well as operational efficiency and financial solvency.

Saudi Arabia stretches over .85 million square miles of mainly desert covering most of the Arabian Peninsula, and has a population of more than 27 million, including around 8.5 million foreigners.

It has four international airports and 22 domestic airports.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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