Merkley, Raskin Lead Colleagues to Push Back on Dirty Hydrogen Energy in Climate Deal

Merkley, Raskin Lead Colleagues to Push Back on Dirty Hydrogen Energy in Climate Deal

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-MD-08) are leading a bicameral group of members of Congress to push back on subsidies for dirty hydrogen in the Build Back Better plan.

As lawmakers work to hammer out a deal before the upcoming Glasgow climate summit, it is critical that the Build Back Better framework includes strong climate action that puts the U.S. on track to meet the Biden administration’s carbon reduction goals. Unfortunately, recent science has suggested that hydrogen energy derived from fossil fuels may be even worse for the climate than traditional fossil fuels—yet subsidies for dirty hydrogen energy are still reportedly being considered for the climate component of the Build Back Better package.

Merkley and Raskin were joined by U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and U.S. Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-09), Andy Levin (D-MI-09), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY-16), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI-13), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY-14), Mondaire Jones (D-NY-17), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10), Chuy Garcia (D-IL-04), Cori Bush (D-MO-01), Jared Huffman (D-CA-02), Mark Takano (D-CA-41), Barbara Lee (D-CA-13), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NY-12), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-07).

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create high quality American jobs and tackle climate chaos by delivering on President Biden’s goal of cutting our greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “In order to achieve this ambitious goal and avert the worst impacts of climate chaos, we must invest in truly clean energy and reject empty promises from the fossil fuel industry. Hydrogen has been touted as a “zero-emission,” alternative energy source in our clean energy transition, but recent peer reviewed science has found that fossil fuel-based hydrogen might have greater greenhouse gas impacts than traditional fossil fuels. As policymakers, we must be attentive to the reality that not all hydrogen is clean and reject efforts to further subsidize dirty hydrogen in the Build Back Better Act.”

“As we look to make significant investments in our clean energy future, we need to ensure that we are not investing in energy sources that could worsen greenhouse gas emissions,” they continued. “False solutions have already cost us precious time in our fight against climate chaos. We cannot afford to subsidize hydrogen production with a carbon footprint worse than that of coal or natural gas. Thank you for your attention to this issue as we work towards a truly clean energy future.”

The lawmakers’ letter was endorsed by 350.org, Alliance for Affordable Energy, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, EarthJustice, Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, Ocean Conservancy, Progressive Democrats of America, and the Sierra Club.

The full text of the letter is available here and follows below.

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Dear Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer:

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create high quality American jobs and tackle climate chaos by delivering on President Biden’s goal of cutting our greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.[1] In order to achieve this ambitious goal and avert the worst impacts of climate chaos, we must invest in truly clean energy and reject empty promises from the fossil fuel industry. Hydrogen has been touted as a “zero-emission,” alternative energy source in our clean energy transition, but recent peer reviewed science has found that fossil fuel-based hydrogen might have greater greenhouse gas impacts than traditional fossil fuels. As policymakers, we must be attentive to the reality that not all hydrogen is clean and reject efforts to further subsidize dirty hydrogen in the Build Back Better Act.

The vast majority of Americans recognize the existential threat posed by climate change, and support a rapid transition to 100% clean, renewable energy.[2] Clean hydrogen may have an important role to play in decarbonizing sectors of our economy where it would be extremely difficult to do so with other technologies. There’s just one problem: current hydrogen production is not at all “clean.” In fact, 95% of hydrogen produced in the U.S. comes from fossil fuels.

When fossil fuel-based hydrogen is paired with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to trap emissions, it is referred to as “blue hydrogen.” “Green hydrogen,” made from 100% renewable energy by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen molecules accounts for less than 0.02% of global hydrogen production.[3] Blue hydrogen may have a larger greenhouse gas footprint than natural gas, coal, or diesel on a life-cycle basis, according to a recent peer-reviewed study by researchers from Cornell University and Stanford University.[4] In fact, blue hydrogen production may result in higher methane emissions than natural gas, diesel, oil, and coal. This is an extremely important finding because “we cannot achieve the Paris Agreement targets without immediately reducing methane,” according to a United Nations report published this year.[5]

Hydrogen produced through steam methane reformation emits health-harming pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds.[6] The burning of hydrogen is also a significant source of nitrogen oxides, which contributes to respiratory and heart diseases. The expansion of fossil-fuel based hydrogen would inevitably harm disproportionately low-income communities and communities of color because these are the same communities which have carried the weight of fossil fuel pollution for generations.

As we look to make significant investments in our clean energy future, we need to ensure that we are not investing in energy sources that could worsen greenhouse gas emissions. False solutions have already cost us precious time in our fight against climate chaos. We cannot afford to subsidize hydrogen production with a carbon footprint worse than that of coal or natural gas. Thank you for your attention to this issue as we work towards a truly clean energy future.