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Ignoring Climate Scientists and Environmental Justice Advocates, DOE Awards Billions to Fossil Fuel Hydrogen

By Abbe Ramanan - Linked In, October 30, 2023

On October 13th, the U.S. Department of Energy announced the recipients of the Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs (“H2Hubs”) funding. H2Hubs will award up to $7 billion to seven regional hydrogen hubs around the country. Disappointingly, more than half of the money from this massive federal investment will go towards Hubs producing hydrogen from fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage (CCS), also known as blue hydrogen. This massive investment ignores major concerns cited by climate scientists, environmental justice advocates, and clean energy experts.

One major concern identified by climate scientists is especially worrying: hydrogen gas leaked into the atmosphere is an indirect greenhouse gas that extends the lifetime of methane in the atmosphere, which means hydrogen has 35 times the climate warming impacts of CO2. A massive buildout of hydrogen infrastructure at this scale, without further research into how to safely and securely transport and store hydrogen, will almost certainly lead to significant short-term warming.

Although DOE has stated that each Hub’s projected benefits played a large role in determining awards, the H2Hubs process has suffered from a lack of transparency. Prospective awardees were not required to publish their proposals publicly, so while many of the Hubs promise community benefits, how these community benefits will be generated – and how those benefits will outweigh the potential harms of each Hub – remain opaque. DOE is hosting a series of local engagement opportunities for each Hub, which will hopefully provide opportunities to cut through the hype and learn more about what these projects will mean for the communities impacted.

While we don’t know much about these Hubs, what we do know suggests that most of these projects will do more harm than good:

Biden Funding for Hydrogen Hubs Threatens Communities, Exacerbates Climate Crisis

By Patrick Sullivan, Center for Biological Diversity; Karen Feridun, Better Path Coalition; Peter Hart, Food and Water Watch; Maya van Rossum, Delaware Riverkeeper Network - Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Facts, October 13, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Biden administration announced today that it will fund seven hydrogen hubs with $7 billion in taxpayer dollars to rapidly expand the production, transport, and use of hydrogen across the nation – sacrificing communities, worsening localized pollution and water crises, doubling down on national sacrifice zones, and perpetuating our reliance on fossil fuels. 

“Throwing billions at hydrogen hubs deepens our dependence on fossil fuels and worsens the climate emergency,” said Maggie Coulter, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “President Biden should be urgently investing in proven and increasingly affordable solar and wind energy. It’s wasteful and misguided to fund false solutions like hydrogen that only further burden frontline communities.”

The Department of Energy’s announcement to fund regional hydrogen hubs in the Mid-Atlantic, Appalachia, the Gulf Coast, California, the Midwest, the Dakotas/Minnesota, and the Pacific Northwest flies in the face of the numerous adverse impacts such hubs will have on communities. Billions of dollars in funding for the planned hydrogen buildout subjects already disproportionately adversely affected communities to more pollution and dangerous infrastructure.

“Today’s announcement is a pledge of allegiance to dirty energy by the Biden administration. It is at once a betrayal of environmental justice communities that have been suffering at the hands of the same polluting industries that will now benefit from this misappropriation of taxpayer dollars and of future generations who will suffer the climate chaos hydrogen hub development guarantees,” said Karen Feridun, Co-founder of the Better Path Coalition in Pennsylvania.

Earlier this year, over 180 regional and national climate, community and environmental groups urged the Department of Energy to reject the “hydrogen hype” and ditch funding to expand hydrogen-based technologies touted as climate solutions by the fossil fuel industry. In fact, the vast majority of hydrogen is generated from fossil fuels, and it itself is an indirect greenhouse gas. 

“The build out of massive hydrogen infrastructure is little more than an industry ploy to rebrand fracked gas. The Biden Administration has clearly fallen for this scam hook, line and sinker. This multi-billion dollar bet on greenwashed dirty energy will undermine efforts to address the climate crisis, while increasing pollution of our air and water, and milk taxpayers for billions in new fossil fuel subsidies,” said Jim Walsh, Policy Director of Food & Water Watch. 

“The avalanche of funding from the Infrastructure Law to create Hydrogen Hubs threatens to doom our national commitment to keep the earth from global climate catastrophe. Efforts to replace greenhouse gas emitting energy sources with renewable and truly clean energy will be undone by these subsidies to support methane and other polluting fuels that will make matters worse. Our government must stop investing in dirty energy and instead launch a full-on campaign for non-polluting renewables,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, leader of Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

Hydrogen production requires massive amounts of water; takes more energy to produce than it generates; is more likely to explode and burns hotter than conventional fossil fuels; and is more corrosive to pipelines – increasing threats in already overburdened communities, and extending our nation’s reliance on fossil fuels. 

“We need an ambitious transition away from dirty energy, not another taxpayer subsidy that enables Big Oil to repackage fossil fuels as so-called clean energy,” said Sarah Lutz, Climate Campaigner at Friends of the Earth US. “The Biden Administration should not be funding hydrogen infrastructure that will lock in decades more of dirty energy production in frontline communities already overburdened with pollution.”

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