Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. U.S. consumers eagerly opened their pocketbooks at department stores last month, but not in great enough numbers to offset a record decline in gasoline sales. The Commerce Department reported this week that Retail Sales, which account for about two-thirds of all U.S. economic activity, fell by .04 percent in September. But, the overall sales numbers were skewed by a record 9.3 percent decline in gasoline sales. Excluding fuel, retail sales actually rose by a healthy 0.6 percent in September, spurred by strong sales at clothing stores. Since the government ties sales numbers to revenue and not volume, the record decline in gasoline SALES reflects a 13 percent plunge in fuel PRICES and is not indicative of a drop in CONSUMPTION. With America's gluttonous appetite for fuel showing no signs of tapering off anytime soon, U.S. energy policy is shaping up to be a key election issue. This week, the nation's "power" brokers gathered in St. Louis to ponder the future of renewable energy.
President Bush: "It's time to get rid of the old stale debates on the environment and recognize new technologies are going to enable us to achieve a lot of objectives at the same time."
Nearly nine months after President Bush declared America a nation "addicted to oil," the Bush Administration continues to push its energy initiative. Speaking at the "Advancing Renewable Energy Conference" in St. Louis this week, the president called for increased ethanol production. At the same time, he expressed cautious optimism for renewable energies.
Speaking before a crowd of energy executives, policymakers, and alternative fuel proponents, Bush warned consumers against becoming "complacent." The president's concern comes at a time when fuel prices have dipped lower across the nation.
USDA Secretary Mike Johanns and Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman toured exhibits throughout the conference and touted ethanol as an essential energy source for future generations.
USDA Sec. Mike Johanns: "Our economists calculate that ethanol production could nearly double in the next five years without forcing us to choose corn for food or corn for fuel."
But American Petroleum Institute President Red Cavaney debunked the value of some alternative fuels. He called the flex-fuel blend of 85% ethanol "unnecessarily expensive and risky." Citing a recent Consumer Reports article, Cavaney claimed vehicles running on E85 sustain a 25 to 30 percent fuel mileage penalty as opposed to conventional gasoline.
Much of the criticism over ethanol production has been the lack of transportation sources to ship it from Midwestern states to population centers on the east and west coasts. Currently, ethanol is shipped by barges, rail tanker cars, and trucks.
In September, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin and Indiana Sen. Richard Luger introduced legislation that would direct the U.S. Department of Energy to study the feasibility of transporting ethanol through a pipeline to the East and West coasts.
The Energy Secretary did not address the pipeline proposal at this week's conference but he did emphasize the need for energy independence.
Energy Sec. Samuel Bodman: "It is certainly true that our agricultural community is increasingly important for our nation's energy security and we are working hard to reach the day when American consumers have the opportunity to choose cost competitive biofuels to run their cars and trucks."