Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. U.S. consumers loosened their purse strings last month boosting sales numbers significantly.
According to the Commerce Department, retail sales rose in August to a seasonally adjusted 2.7 percent in the largest month-over-month gain in three-and-a-half years.
Much of the increase was attributed to the "Cash for Clunkers" program which drove a 10.6 percent increase in auto sales.
Meanwhile, higher energy prices fueled a 1.7 percent spike in wholesale prices in August. But the Consumer Price Index rose less than one-half of one percent revealing inflation -- at least at the retail level -- is virtually non-existent.
And construction of new homes rose by 1.5 percent last month to an annual rate of 598,000 units. While that's their best showing since November, housing starts remain nearly 75 percent below their peak in 2006.
First-time homebuyers have until the end of November to take advantage of a federal tax credit of up to $8,000. A smaller credit of up to $1,500 also is available for homeowners who install products increasing energy efficiency.
Homeowners might be wise to make the improvements.
Pending legislation to reduce carbon emissions is expected to boost energy costs. And this week, the EPA announced it's considering new regulations for power utilities to make sure efforts to protect the air don't foul the nation's waterways.
In what appears to be a reaction to the threat of a lawsuit by environmental groups, the federal government is planning to make changes to water discharge standards. The Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Environmental Integrity Project informed the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this week they will sue for failure to make changes in Clean Water Act regulations for coal-fired power plants over the past 27 years.
Though EPA officials say the Clean Air Act has done much to clean the air people breathe while reducing acid rain and respiratory illnesses the Clean Water Act has not kept pace. Much of the pollution reduction technology at coal-fired electric generating stations utilizes water to clean smoke-stack gas. The water, when improperly managed, can end up in rivers, lakes, and streams. EPA plans to tighten allowable levels of heavy metals like selenium, mercury and lead after conducting a multi-year study.
Despite the move by EPA, the environmental coalition is still planning to pursue its lawsuit.
The EPA also released new application limits on three pesticides to keep the chemicals out of waterways in the western United States. Used mainly to control pests in fruit, vegetable, and other crops the chemicals were found by the U.S. Geological Survey to interfere with salmon feeding and breeding. The new rules limit the use of the products within 100 to 1,000 feet of riparian areas depending upon the size of the waterway.
And the Obama Administration has submitted a new strategy on how to protect those salmon. The plan calls for, among other things, climate-change monitoring and the possibility of hydro-electric dam removal. Environmentalists call the plan a revamp of an old Bush proposal that has already been rejected. Business leaders are concerned that removing hydro-electric dams would reduce the number of power plants they feel produce cheap power.