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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

White House Hydrogen Initiative

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth’s Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports on President Bush’s effort to push hydrogen fuel cell technology as the antidote for the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. President Bush recently trotted out one of the environmental themes from his State of the Union address.

At the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., he showcased the administration's 1.2 billion dollar commitment to speed development of hydrogen fuel cell technology. Mr. Bush says fuel cells are crucial to reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy. Living on Earth's Anna Solomon-Greenbaum was there and has our story.

PRESIDENT BUSH: We're talking about fuel cells today. Energy independence. Clean air…

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Behind a large ring of tall blue velvet curtains, President Bush took a stroll among the latest gadgets in fuel cell technology. When, at last, he emerged onto the stage outside, he told his audience what he had seen.

PRESIDENT BUSH: When you walk around this curtain, and you take a look at those vehicles, they are going to run on hydrogen. We saw cell phones that can run on hydrogen, laptop computers. There is going to be all kinds of applications for the use of hydrogen-powered fuel cells in our society.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Many obstacles remain, said the President, including building the infrastructure to store the hydrogen and deliver it to fuel stations. It might be almost 20 years, he said, before the first hydrogen cars are available on the commercial market. But those cars, he said, will mean cleaner air and fewer greenhouse gases. And, the President said, hydrogen will help free us from dependence on our enemies.

PRESIDENT BUSH: We import over half of our crude oil stocks from abroad. And sometimes we import that oil from countries that don't particularly like us. It jeopardizes our national security. If we develop hydrogen power to its full potential, we can reduce our demand for oil by over 11 million barrels per day by the year 2040. [APPLAUSE]

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The President called on Congress to authorize $1.2 billion dollars to fund the fuel cell program. But some lawmakers, like Senator Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota, said the President isn't asking for enough.

DORGAN: The President's suggestion is a step in the right direction, but it's a baby step. And frankly, he talks about $1.2 billion dollars, but most of that is not new money.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Senator Dorgan has written his own proposal. It would funnel $6 billion dollars over ten years into fuel cell development. The senator wants to see 100,000 hydrogen fueled cars on the road by the year 2010.

DORGAN: We need to set kind of a moon shot goal out there and decide as a country we're going to meet the goal.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Many environmental advocates are wary of all this lofty talk about a future in fuel cells. They worry it's becoming a substitute for reducing our oil consumption today. Wesley Warren is with the National Resources Defense Council. He says tougher fuel efficiency standards now could cut air pollution and oil consumption in half by the time the first fuel cell cars hit the road. And fuel cells, he says, aren't actually pollution-free. It takes other energy to make the hydrogen in the first place. Warren says the President's new budget includes an earmark for nuclear power specifically geared to produce hydrogen.

WARREN: We don't think that it makes sense to be going down a nuclear path for cars of the future when we could have tremendous payoff in investments in solar and wind technology that could provide the hydrogen fuel in a way that's clean and affordable for the future.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Warren says these renewable energies lose out in the President's new budget. That budget, including the President's fuel cell proposal, is now being considered in Congress. For Living on Earth, I'm Anna Solomon-Greenbaum in Washington.



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