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Economy is strong, commerce secretary says

U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez Thursday said that although heating costs would likely rise this winter, consumers have shown they are able to weather higher energy prices.
/ Source: Reuters

U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez Thursday said that although heating costs would likely rise this winter, consumers have shown they are able to weather higher energy prices.

"Energy is a smaller percentage of our overall economy today than it was 20 or 30 years ago, so we are able to withstand those increases," said Gutierrez, who spoke to reporters after touring an Atlanta area Home Depot store with company Chairman Bob Nardelli.

Gutierrez, the former chief executive of cereal giant Kellogg Co., said there were concerns that spending would suffer as gasoline prices rose earlier this year.

"We've seen (gas prices) now decline to below the level they were before Katrina," Gutierrez said. "Consumers were able to live with that and still drive growth in the economy and still be able to create a very robust economy."

Gutierrez said he visited Home Depot Inc., the world's largest home improvement retailer, which opened its 2,000th store Thursday, to highlight "parts of our economy that are driving growth."

He backed oil exploration in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as a way to open up new energy sources. Congress is expected to decide this month whether to open the Arctic refuge, which covers 19 million acres and is home to caribou and other wildlife, to energy exploration.

"One opportunity we have in the very near term is to approve oil exploration in ANWR," Gutierrez said. "It's an opportunity to show that we are serious about being more dependent on our own supplies of energy and being independent of foreign sources of oil."

Gutierrez also said that while loss of American jobs to outsourcing hurts, the United States has gained 6.5 million jobs tied to foreign investment.

"No one is trying to justify outsourcing or minimize it ... but we have been able to offset the losses with increases," Gutierrez said.