It was a rough week in the markets. Stocks and commodities suffered when China’s GDP came in below market expectations. Closer to home... a new AP-GfK poll shows 3-in-4 Americans are pessimistic about their financial future. Despite the cynicism other bench marks indicate signs of growth reinforcing the belief that the beleaguered economy continues to improve.
According to the Commerce Department, the overall pace of home construction rose 7 percent in March. At this speed, U.S. contractors would build more than 1 million new units this year. The figures for March are more than 45 percent higher than the same month a year ago.
Applications for building permits, a measure of future construction, declined nearly 4 percent to an annual rate of just over 900,000 in March – down from the previous month’s brush with a five-year high.
Despite the encouraging recovery news for builders, those trading on Wall Street have been on a roller coaster ride. After the Dow failed to break the 15,000 mark last week, the market fell 3 out of 5 sessions -- dropping more than 315 points this week.
Gold bugs also took it on the chin this week as the price per troy ounce suffered its sharpest fall in decades. The precious metal had been a good investment for the past ten years and hit all-time high of $1,920 an ounce in 2011.
As metals softened, the bears flushed the bulls out of the oil market. Slightly lower than expected growth in China and reduced gasoline demand pushed black gold down 4 percent this week.
At more a little more than $88 dollars per barrel, work to reduce reliance on foreign oil remains a priority from Capitol Hill to those using gas pumps across the nation.
Tapping alternative crude sources like Canadian oil sands would appear to be a no brainer where energy independence is concerned. Canadian oil giant Trans-Canada’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline is expected to send 800,000 barrels of oil per day to U.S. refineries. While promise of energy independence would appear to be a good reason to give the 1,700-mile long project a green-light, grassroots organizations disagree.
Byron Steskal, Holt County, Nebraska: “…at 830,000 barrels per day, at two percent, is 16,600 barrels per day, leaking undetected…in my water! On my property!”
Emotions ran high, this week, in Grand Island, Nebraska where the U.S. State Department held its sole public hearing on the environmental review of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
Kerri-Ann Jones, U.S. State Department: “We feel this would be very important for this project that has really garnered an enormous amount of public interest.”
Calgary, Alberta-based TransCanada Corporation is set to deliver oil sands crude from surface-mine operations in Canada to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. The oil company’s original route was rejected by both the Obama Administration and the state of Nebraska early last year, due to its potential negative impact as it traversed Nebraska’s Sandhills. The region is seated atop the massive Ogallala Aquifer, which underlies parts of eight states. The Cornhusker State relies on this resource for ranching, agricultural irrigation and drinking water.
Jane Kleeb, Director – Bold Nebraska: “We have no idea how tar sands will react in the Ogallala Aquifer, which is a unique water system. We have no idea how it’s going to react in the Platte River, the Niobrara River, or families’ wells. We think that basic science has got to be done before they move forward with this type of project.”
Portions of the Keystone XL pipeline running through the U.S. have already been approved, and construction is moving forward. Nebraska’s section represents the final hurdle for infrastructure that proponents say would bring increased energy security and put more Americans back to work.
Brigham McCown, Former Director - PHMSA: “Well I see the project itself is going to create thousands of jobs. This is similar to any other construction project. One of the points made by opponents is ‘Well how many permanent jobs will there be?’ But yet, you know, with every highway, bridge or road construction, it’s about construction jobs. It’s part of what we need to move our economy forward.”
In 2012, TransCanada suggested a new corridor that largely avoids the Sandhills. Finding the revision agreeable, Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman approved the new pipeline route through his state in early 2013. Coupled with State Department findings in March that the project would have “no significant impacts” to environmental resources along the route, the final decision on the pipeline likely belongs to the President.
Last week, Alberta Premier Alison Redford stated if the Obama Administration rejects Keystone XL, it would represent “a significant thorn in Canadian-U.S. relations.”
Alison Redford, Premier – Alberta, Canada: “Almost 30 percent of U.S. oil imports now come from Canada. Without Canada’s almost 2 million barrels a day from the oil sands, there is no prospect of North American energy independence. It makes economic and environmental sense to get that energy from a trusted partner.”
But a recent pipeline oil spill in Mayflower, Arkansas, has served as a lightning rod for those opposed to Keystone XL’s completion. Critics claim pipeline leaks are inevitable. Yet GOP lawmakers are moving forward in their quest to make Keystone XL happen, pointing out that thousands of miles of pipeline already exist within the state of Nebraska.
Congressman Lee Terry last week introduced House Resolution 3, the Northern Route Approval Act, which aims to circumvent the Obama Administration’s authority over the decision.
Rep. Lee Terry, R - Nebraska: “So here we are, April 2013, still mired in the process. My bill HR-3 puts an end to that. The bill requires that no presidential permit shall be required for the project…The additional provision of the bill will ensure that the pipeline is built.”
Public backlash against the project may all be for naught. But Nebraska farmers, ranchers and environmentalists are sure to fight for their cause well into the future. A final decision is expected from the President this summer. That is unless Congress is successful in legislating that power away from the administration and proceeding with the project, for better or worse.