The Commerce Department reports the U.S. trade deficit rose 2.2 percent in April and is running at an annual rate of $361 billion -- -- or about half of last year's trade gap.
U.S. exports and imports both soared to record-highs last July. Since then, exports have fallen 26 percent, while imports are down nearly 35 percent -- -- with one notable exception… Petroleum imports rose 2 percent in April to $18 billion.
Keep in mind, the average price for a barrel of crude oil last spring was $46.60. On Thursday, it settled at $72.68. That's its highest level since October, but only about half of its all-time high posted last summer.
Higher energy prices had a profound effect on U.S. motorists who drove 12 billion fewer miles in the first quarter of 2008, than in the previous year, reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by roughly 9 million metric tons.
Nevertheless, the push to curtail CO2 emissions is now in high gear. And with legislation designed to fight climate change about to be debated in the House, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack testified to lawmakers this week on agriculture's role in pending climate change legislation.
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Oklahoma: "This is a bill, enormous in size and consequence, that has the potential to permanently effect every man, woman and child for decades to come."
Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa: "We've got to have USDA involved in this and we have to have the confidence it will be or I don't think we're gonna have a bill."
The Waxman-Markey Bill, officially known as the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, establishes rules for storing and trading greenhouse gasses. House Agriculture committee members are angry the measure all but eliminates agriculture from any monetary benefits available in the two billion tons of allowable offsets. They also were displeased the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, will administrate the law.
Chairman Collin Peterson, R-Minnesota: "...and then coming up with these kinds of projections, that I don't agree with, this is why a lot of us on the committee do not want the EPA near our farms."
Lawmakers are concerned the measure could cost agriculture millions. There also is fear new jobs would go to countries like China and India where emissions are virtually unregulated.
Stressing the need for the U.S. to be the leader in climate change, Secretary Vilsack continually repeated his belief that American farmers are innovative and EPA would treat the agricultural industry fairly. But that failed to appease lawmakers.
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Oklahoma: "...they will put their name on the line on this version of the bill. But if you were a member of Congress, representing the great state of Iowa, and you had to vote 'yes' or 'no' in 14 days on this bill, what would you do?"
Secretary Tom Vilsack, USDA: "You're asking me a hypothetical..."
Rep. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Oklahoma: "But you're the voice of agriculture within the administration, sir."
Secretary Tom Vilsack, USDA: "I appreciate that and I'm going to answer your question... We are looking forward to working with you to do whatever is necessary to make sure agriculture and forestry are, in fact, part of this opportunity."
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Oklahoma: "I truly appreciate the challenge you are in but sitting on this side of the dais, looking at this...hope my colleagues who care about rural America and their districts cannot vote for."
Because the measure is on the fast track the House Agriculture Committee will not be allowed to make any changes to the bill before it reaches the House floor.
Regardless of the bill's future, Vilsack made it clear the Obama Administration wants to demonstrate the U.S. is working to prevent climate change by the time the President attends the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen at the end of the year.