Equity traders ventured into record territory on Wall Street yet again late this week, as the Dow flirted with 17,000 on news of continued improvement in the U.S. labor market.
The government reported Friday that U.S. employers added 217,000 workers in May, marking the fourth straight month of significant hiring gains.
The unemployment rate held steady at 6.3 percent, but that’s still the lowest level in more than five years.
Meanwhile, U.S. auto sales rose in May to a nine-year high of just over 1.6 million. All told, motorists purchased 15.6 million cars last year -- up 50 percent from the depths of the recession in 2009.
And officials reported this week that the U.S. trade deficit jumped to a two-year high in April on surging imports.
Last year, America’s cavernous trade gap narrowed by more than 11 percent, thanks largely to a boom in domestic energy production. This week, however, the Obama Administration sent shockwaves through the energy sector, when the EPA unveiled plans to drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.
The new guidelines, released this week by the Environmental Protection Agency, call for a 30 percent reduction in coal fired power plant emissions by 2030.
Existing power plants are the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. And the White House, along with several environmental groups, claim that without bold action, climate change –attributed to high levels of atmospheric carbon- will intensify, endangering public health.
Gina McCarthy/EPA Administrator: "This is not just about disappearing polar bears and melting ice caps… Although I like polar bears and I know about melting ice caps… This is about protecting our health and our homes.”
Unlike new power plants, the government cannot directly restrict emissions from existing plants. But it can issue clean air guidelines, forcing individual states to formulate their own rules to comply with the directives.
Some coal-producing states find themselves in a dubious position - phasing out a commodity which has been the lynchpin of their economies for generations. Several frustrated state officials offered their opinion of the decree early this week.
Earl Ray Tomblin,/West Virginia Governor: "Unfortunately the proposal unveiled today falls far short of the balance that must exist if we are to continue to grow and prosper."
The coal industry joined state lawmakers calling for caution as the administration proceeds with what would amount to one of the most significant U.S. actions on global warming.
Mike Duncan,/President & CEO, American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity: "If this rule goes into effect, within a five year period after it goes into effect, in many states you will have a double digit increase in electricity prices. That's because you are going to have fewer power plants in play and you are going to have more volatility in other sources of energy."