NCPA Commentaries by H. Sterling Burnett

H. Sterling Burnett is a Senior Fellow for the National Center for Policy Analysis. While Burnett works on a number of issues, he specializes in issues involving environmental policy and gun policy.

  • Jun 12, 2009

    Removing the Political Shortage of Water

    About 82 percent of Americans receive drinking water via publicly owned water systems, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Many of these municipal and regional systems operate at a loss, meaning users' fees don't cover the cost of treating and delivering the water.

  • Apr 15, 2009

    Los Angeles Voters Reject Solar Initiative

    In a surprising blow to environmental activists and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union, Los Angeles voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have required the city to install 400 megawatts of solar panels by 2014.

  • Apr 13, 2009

    EPA Considers California Greenhouse Gas Waiver

    The National Center for Policy Analysis appreciates the opportunity to comment on the President's request to the EPA to reconsider its previous denial of California's 2005 Waiver of Federal Preemption under Section 209(b) of the Clean Air Act. We would like to take this opportunity to caution EPA Administrator Jackson against reversing the denial of the request made by former EPA Administrator Johnson in 2008.

  • Jun 23, 2008

    EPA, CBO Document the High Costs of Proposed Global Warming Legislation

    The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have each released new reports showing global warming legislation would inflict serious economic punishment on American consumers.

  • Jun 23, 2008

    A Must-Read Book on Global Warming

    The Deniers, a riveting book by Canadian environmental journalist Lawrence Solomon, should be read by anyone who wants to understand where and why substantive debate remains concerning climate change. The book painfully shows why there is so much vitriol surrounding what until recently was a relatively quiet, unheralded, or unnoticed (except by its practitioners) field of science.

  • May 22, 2008

    We Don't Have To Take $4 Gas Prices — We Can Drill

    Shock and awe - we are living it! We stand, mouth agape, staring at the pump at $4 gallons and fast-emptying pocketbooks. Even worse, with crude oil already costing more than $120 a barrel, many predict that this wave has yet to crest.

    And while we wait for the price to peak, spending shrinks and the economic outlook worsens. Our energy policies have failed us, and now, we pay the price, literally.

    In response, politicians are calling for windfall profits taxes and temporary gas tax holidays. Once again, we're forced to stomach politically motivated, short-term nonanswers instead of long-term solutions.

    Here's a thought: Rather than vilifying the oil industry for our sticker shock, let's take a hard look at the actions of our federal government.

    For years, we've approached domestic drilling in a politically correct manner, placing caribou on a pedestal while ignoring American consumers and national security. Politicians made a choice to outsource and import, instead of expand and drill. As a result, we fill the coffers of foreign nations instead of boosting American gross domestic product.

    In a recent press conference, President Bush suggested drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He might be on to something. Despite the hysterical claims made by environmental lobbyists, oil and the environment can mix. Caribou and other wildlife have expanded and flourished in and around Prudhoe Bay, apparently unaffected by the relatively primitive oil and gas development in the area. And technology in the oil industry has improved mightily in the years since the Arctic slope was first tapped.

    Indeed, two leading environmental groups, the Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy, have allowed oil and gas production on several of their most important and unique nature preserves.

    Unfortunately, the Congress also has banned energy exploration in 85 percent of our coastal waters. As a result, while Cuba, in partnership with China, drills closer to the U.S. coastline than we do, the United States goes hat in hand to Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Canada, Nigeria, Mexico and even Iran. Our lawmakers' decision to block domestic access harms both the public and the environment.

    Since 1991, oil tankers have spilled three times more oil than offshore platforms. Furthermore, when tankers leak, they tend to do so near shore, resulting in more severe environmental damage. Thus, because platforms are less prone to spills than tankers, increasing the amount of oil produced off America's coast could be environmentally beneficial.

    It is estimated that beneath America's coast lies enough oil to fuel 60 million cars in the United States for 60 years - and enough natural gas to heat 60 million homes for 160 years.

    Our nation and the world will need significant amounts of oil and natural gas well into the future. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States alone will need 19 percent more energy in 2030. Globally, that number jumps to 55 percent.

    While renewables and alternatives are a part of tomorrow's energy mix, they cannot represent the entire answer. In the year 2030, those "fuels of the future" will only comprise 9 percent of consumer demand. More than 60 percent of demand will continue to be fulfilled by oil and natural gas. We must take those numbers to heart and remove barriers to domestic drilling.

    In China, more than a billion people are beginning to taste unparalleled economic success. Each year, increasing numbers of Chinese demand cars, air conditioning, televisions, refrigerators, personal computers and other electronics. Each of these benefits of progress will require more, not less, energy. And the same story echoes around the globe as economies liberalize and material progress becomes more widespread and the race for energy gets fiercer!

    While pundits speculate that America will stay ahead of the curve, thousands of unemployed American workers tell a different story - we are already falling behind the eight ball, and political roadblocks to domestic energy development are partly to blame.

    Here's a shocking fact: The world's largest private oil producer, Exxon, ranks just 16th in the world. Government-controlled oil fields in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Russia, Mexico and Libya contain more fuel than America's largest oil producer owns.

    Yet, if allowed access to American oil reserves in Alaska and off the coast, American oil companies could increase the country's reserves an estimated fivefold, taking the United States from 11th place to fourth among the countries with proven reserves.

    The United States is losing the energy race, not because we are being beaten, but because we don't allow domestic companies to compete. For our nation's security, for our consumers' well-being and for our workers' continued economic progress, it's time for Congress to let American companies get in the game. Let the drilling begin.

    Burnett is a Senior Fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute based in Dallas. Of the $8.47 million in contributions received last year by the NCPA, $75,000 came from energy related companies.

  • May 07, 2008

    Brazil's Energy Plan Examined

    Originally Published in: Washington Times

    With national security on everyone's mind and the average retail price of gasoline nearing an inflation-adjusted high of $3.40 a gallon, analysts have touted Brazil as an example the United States should follow on the path to "energy independence."

    Unfortunately, the analysts and the public they mislead seem to misunderstand both the substantial differences between energy markets in the United States and Brazil and the underlying reason for Brazil's success. On the latter point, Brazil's success is often attributed to its thriving ethanol market, but this is at most only a small part of the story.

    Indeed, the untold story is more complicated and the one lesson Brazil could teach the U.S. - to increase its domestic oil production - flies in the face of demands made by environmental lobbyists on the Democratically controlled Congress.

    In 2006, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), ethanol made up about 48 percent of the fuel used by gasoline-powered passenger vehicles in Brazil, but when considering both gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles, ethanol supplied only 20 percent of the total fuel consumed by automobiles and trucks on Brazilian highways.

    Though in absolute terms the United States now produces more total ethanol than Brazil, as a share of transportation fuel - less than 3 percent of the fuel used in cars and trucks - we still lag far behind our southern neighbor.

    And it is unlikely, absent imposing a huge price increase on drivers and doing horrific damage to the environment, we can ever reach a goal of ethanol providing 20 percent of our fuel supply. Why?

    First, Brazil uses much less gasoline and diesel than the U.S. While Brazil consumes 20 billion gallons of ethanol, gasoline and diesel combined each year, of which 4 billion is ethanol, the United States uses 182 billion gallons a year - more than ninefold as much. To put this in further perspective, for ethanol to displace just 20 percent of current automobile fuel in the U.S. we would have to produce almost double the total amount of fuel Brazilian vehicles use in a single year or almost triple the entire world's production of ethanol in 2006.

    Second, Brazil has a major comparative advantage over the United States in producing ethanol. Its climate is suited to growing sugar cane, which requires half as much land as corn per gallon of ethanol produced. Also, sugar cane-based ethanol provides 8 times or 800 percent more energy than the fossil fuel used to make it, while America's corn-derived ethanol by the most generous calculations provides only 30 percent more energy than is used to produce it. Further, production costs in Brazil are far lower than in the United States because labor is cheaper and Brazil's ethanol infrastructure is more developed.

    While Brazil's embrace of ethanol doesn't have much to teach the United States, its policies regarding domestic oil and gas production do provide an instructive lesson, if only Congress would listen. In the 1980s, despite huge subsidies Brazil began experiencing ethanol shortages, learning firsthand that ethanol production alone would not lead to energy independence. As a result, it started promoting policies to boost domestic oil production. Indeed, increased production and new oil discoveries played the biggest role in liberating Brazil from dependence on foreign energy.

    Brazil increased domestic crude oil production an average of more than 9 percent a year from 1980 to 2005, to 1.6 million barrels of oil per day. Most notably, in 2007, Brazil announced a huge oil discovery off its coast that could increase its 14.4 billion barrels of oil reserves by 5 billion to 8 billion barrels, or 40 percent.

    By contrast, from 1980 to 2005, U.S. crude oil production fell an average of about 2 percent a year or 40 percent overall, from 8.6 million barrels of oil per day to 5.2 million.

    This is one lesson we could learn from Brazil's push for energy independence: make oil production a priority. And the United States has significant reserves: the government estimates Alaska and the Outer Continental Shelf could contain more than 100 billion barrels of oil combined - more than 4 times as much as current U.S. reserves.

    New domestic oil production will do far more to alleviate America's dependence on foreign oil supplies than even the most efficient production of ethanol. Tapping this oil only requires Congress to remove legislative barriers to domestic production - no subsidies, no mandates.

    Brazil has been sending a message concerning energy since the 1980s, but apparently Washington has selective hearing.

    D. Sean Shurtleff is a graduate student fellow and H. Sterling Burnett is a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

    Brazil's Energy Plan Examined (Audio) 

    Originally Aired by:  KERA

    To listen to the audio commentary: ncpa_audio_38.asx

  • May 15, 2006

    Are Polar Bears Dying?

    A new study by Dr. David Legates, Delaware's State Climatologist and director of the University of Delaware's Center for Climatic Research, throws cold water on the claim that global warming threatens to cause the extinction of polar bears.

  • Oct 03, 2005

    Subsidizing Disaster Commentary

    Audio by H. Sterling Burnett
  • Apr 29, 2005

    Nuclear Energy Commentary: KERA

    Audio by H. Sterling Burnett