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DOE’s Regional Hydrogen Hubs: Climate Solution, or Climate Disaster?

Labor unions are still giving Democrats climate headaches

By Alex Nieves - Politico, December 4, 2023

One of California’s most powerful unions is not loosening its grip on oil jobs.

Despite the Biden administration and California lawmakers pouring billions of dollars into new climate-friendly industries like electric vehicles, hydrogen and building electrification, a key player in state politics is still defending fossil fuel interests that provide thousands of well-paying jobs.

President Joe Biden’s investment in clean energy sectors through a pair of massive spending bills — which promise lucrative tax credits for projects that pay union wages — was supposed to speed up the labor transition away from oil and gas. That hasn’t happened in deep-blue California, home to the country’s most ambitious climate policies — and most influential labor unions.

“We believe we’re still going to be working in the oil and gas space for the foreseeable future,” said Chris Hannan, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, which represents nearly 500,000 members across dozens of local unions, from pipefitting to electrical work.

Unions’ longstanding — and well-founded — distrust of the renewable energy industry as a reliable source of labor-friendly jobs is slowing the “just transition” that Biden, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic leaders around the country have pushed.

With federal officials trying to get clean energy funding out as fast as possible ahead of the 2024 election, and California politicians cracking down on the fossil fuel industry, unions’ reluctance to relinquish fossil fuel jobs undermines Democrats’ aggressive climate targets, according to a lawmaker who serves both a union- and oil-rich area of the state.

While the union embrace of fossil fuels is unique to California — one of the few blue states with significant oil production — the struggle highlights a larger question over how states can quickly build massive amounts of clean energy infrastructure without undercutting labor.

Pennsylvania Senate Hydrogen Hub Testimony Illuminates Cost, Viability Concerns; Risk of Wasted Taxpayer Dollars

By staff - Ohio River Valley Institute, December 4, 2023

Financial and regulatory support for the gas-based ARCH2 Appalachian Hydrogen Hub risks reduced economic growth, fewer jobs, and higher utility bills, taxes, and prices for Pennsylvanians, according to testimony delivered today at the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Policy Committee’s hearing on hydrogen infrastructure by Ohio River Valley Institute Senior Researcher Sean O’Leary.

Hydrogen and companion carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology are exorbitantly expensive and relatively ineffective means of decarbonization, research shows, and undue state support for their development may result in stranded assets, wasted public funds, and minimal economic and job growth.

“For these reasons, the greatest risk facing you as Pennsylvania policymakers isn’t that you may provide too little support for the state’s hydrogen hubs but rather that you may provide too much,” O’Leary explained to the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Policy Committee. “That is why we at the Ohio River Valley Institute hope members of this committee will help temper financial and regulatory support for the hubs to reflect their actual value and costs. We hope that members will work to ensure that state assistance is limited to the small number of projects and specific applications in which hydrogen is either the most cost-effective or only means of decarbonization. And we hope that, when hydrogen is used, it will be hydrogen made from water and not natural gas, which is both polluting and economically counterproductive.”

The Clean Energy Pathway for Southwestern Pennsylvania describes how concerted investment in energy efficiency and distributed renewable generation in the ten counties surrounding Pittsburgh would cut power sector carbon emissions by 92% by 2035, all at a total cost 13% less than decarbonization models reliant on natural gas and carbon capture. The Clean Energy Pathway would additionally support the creation of 12,416 jobs and yield annual environmental and health benefits of more than $2.5 billion by 2035 via efficiency expenditures and residential bill savings.

Download Testimony Here.

Will Federal Infrastructure Programs Promote or Undermine Climate Justice?

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, November 30, 2023

At a November Department of Energy panel on “Community Voices from the Ground” grassroots environmental justice advocates asked the Department to stop promoting large-scale polluting project in marginalized communities of color. John Beard, founder and director of the Port Arthur Community Action Network, said,

“DOE says it is committed to promoting environmental justice in all its activities. And yet, the agency continues to grant export authorizations to methane gas export terminals and explosive carbon bombs in low-income communities and communities of color.” 

 The environmental justice advocates asked DOE to stop investing in hydrogen hubs, carbon capture and sequestration technologies at refineries and utilities, and direct air carbon capture technology aimed at sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere, calling them all “dangerous distractions.” Beard said producing hydrogen requires large amounts of energy that will “worsen the effects of climate change while allowing big oil and gas to reap more profits while our children get sick, our air is polluted, and our safety is compromised.” 

 Simultaneously, at the White House Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said on a conference call with community groups and reporters that nearly 470 federal programs with billions of dollars in annual investment were being “reimagined and transformed to meet the Justice40 goal and maximize benefits to disadvantaged communities.”

Another Exciting Victory! California Selected for Regional Clean Hydrogen (H2) Hub

By Eli Lipmen - Move LA, November 30, 2023

As Californians, ARCHES will enable us to meet two major environmental priorities regarding the ARCHES proposal: abating climate change and potentially ending diesel air pollution. 

Renewable hydrogen, when used with fuel cell technologies, may be the only alternative that can do both.

Renewable green Hydrogen (H2), when used in fuel cells is a zero-emission source of power that creates the opportunity to reduce, perhaps even eliminate, the use of diesel fuel--a dangerous source of pollution that causes lung disease, heart disease, asthma, and cancer, devastating low-income communities along goods movement corridors.

Hydrogen has many applications in heavy-duty transportation--heavy-duty long-haul trucks, locomotives, airplanes, ocean-going vessels, off-road construction equipment--applications that can not easily be electrified.

Click here to learn more about OCED’s H2Hubs program and click here to read the White House’s H2Hubs press release. It is important to understand that this is the first in a multi-step process by which ARCHES can be awarded as much as $1.2 billion for the creation of a green Hydrogen Hub in California.

Move LA played a pivotal role in developing the application for this award, bringing together key allies in the Labor movement with government and nonprofit partners. The results are made clear in the White House announcement on the award to California, which is “committed to requiring Project Labor Agreements for all projects connected to the hub, which will expand opportunities for disadvantaged communities and create an expected 220,000 direct jobs—130,000 in construction jobs and 90,000 permanent jobs.”

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:

Texas Unions, Community, and Climate Groups Release Statement on HyVelocity Hydrogen Hub

By staff - Texas Climate Jobs Project, October 25, 2023

HyVelocity is poised to receive $1.2 billion to build Texas Gulf hydrogen hub

Houston, Texas – Today the Texas Climate Jobs Project, Commission Shift, Air Alliance Houston, West Street Recovery, the Coalition for Environment, Equity, and Resilience, Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter, Sunrise Movement ATX, Texas AFL-CIO, and the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation released the following statement in response to the Department of Energy’s decision to move forward and negotiate with HyVelocity to award $1.2 billion to build a hydrogen hub in the Texas Gulf:

“We are deeply distressed by the Department of Energy’s decision to advance the HyVelocity hydrogen application in Texas. Through the Department of Energy Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub program, the Biden administration is poised to transfer $1.2 billion in taxpayer dollars to HyVelocity, whose application sponsors include ExxonMobil and Chevron, and whose supporting partners include Amazon, Governor Greg Abbott, and the Texas Railroad Commission.” 

“Our organizations are on the front lines of environmental justice, labor organizing, and community work to reduce carbon emissions and improve living conditions across the Texas Gulf, and HyVelocity’s lack of transparency and refusal to make adequate concrete commitments leave us concerned. We urge the Department of Energy to compel HyVelocity to resolve its differences with our organizations before choosing to move the applicant further in the process.” 

“This includes, at a minimum: prioritizing projects that use renewable energy like wind and solar to help reduce overall carbon emissions; binding community workforce agreements for construction workers with strong Justice40 commitments; and binding labor peace agreements to ensure a just transition for fossil fuel workers.”

“Enough is enough”: Demanding transparency, Texas labor coalition files open records requests for HyVelocity hydrogen application details

By Veronica Serrano - Texas Climate Jobs Project, October 13, 2023

Houston, Texas – Today Texas Climate Jobs Project, a nonprofit organization working with more than twenty labor organizations in Texas including the Texas AFL-CIO, announced it has filed public information requests with public bodies across Texas that are listed as partners on HyVelocity’s website

Today’s announcement to pursue more information about the HyVelocity hydrogen hub comes after the Department of Energy’s decision to select the HyVelocity application as one of its regional clean hydrogen hubs.

“Enough is enough,” said Bo Delp, executive director of Texas Climate Jobs Project. “HyVelocity, which is partnered with some of the largest and wealthiest corporations on Earth, is poised to receive $1.2 billion in hard earned taxpayer dollars and Texas families deserve to evaluate these projects in the light of day.”

“While we welcome the concept of a hydrogen hub in Texas, without concrete agreements in place with labor organizations this application could have profoundly negative impacts on working people in Texas.” 

Workers in Texas face growing racial and economic inequality and worsening safety standards, and HyVelocity has failed to provide meaningful answers for how it intends to mitigate these deeply concerning dynamics in the Texas economy. 

Texas Climate Jobs Project and its coalition of more than twenty Texas labor organizations are calling on HyVelocity to commit to binding community workforce agreements and labor peace agreements to address these concerns and ensure a just transition for fossil fuel workers.

Link: Website

Link: Digital thread on today’s announcement

Texas Climate Jobs Statement on Department of Energy Awarding Funds to HyVelocity Hub for Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub Program

By Veronica Serrano - Texas Climate Jobs Project, October 13, 2023

Texas Climate Jobs Project and the Texas AFL-CIO released the following statement in response to the Department of Energy’s decision to award the HyVelocity Hub application federal grant dollars to continue its pursuit of developing a hydrogen hub in the Gulf Coast region of Texas:

“A hydrogen hub in the Gulf Coast region has the potential to transform industries in Texas, and for more than a year labor organizations in Texas have raised concerns about the lack of transparency involved in the project as well as its impact on workers. Now that these corporations are poised to receive taxpayer dollars to develop this hub, it is critical to ensure that all involved in this project redouble efforts to ensure that public funds are used to create safe, family-sustaining jobs.

We support the concept of hydrogen hubs and what they can bring to Texas, but we are disappointed in the lack of any real commitment from Texas applicants to ensure that workers have a voice in the process. The Biden administration has consistently delivered for workers around clean energy projects across the country and we urge them to hold Texas applicants accountable to make sure that the needs of workers and communities in Texas are addressed on these hydrogen hub projects. 

Workers in Texas face growing racial and economic inequality and worsening safety standards, which makes strong labor standards ever more necessary today. Texas is the only state in the U.S. that doesn’t require employers to provide workers’ compensation insurance and Texas also leads in worker deaths. We are ready to work together to ensure that the growing hydrogen industry in Texas creates jobs in which workers can support their families and where they can go home safely every night.”

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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