Hydrogen reversal shows governmental fuel-choice lunacy

Bob Tippee

A low-profile revolt over hydrogen in Washington, DC, illustrates the lunacy of governmental fuel choice.

In the administration of former President George W. Bush, hydrogen was the fuel of the future, the solemn mission, for a while, of the Department of Energy.

The administration of Barack Obama has other ideas. It has cut hydrogen programs begun in the Bush years and excluded hydrogen from its promotion of electric and hybrid vehicles.

Is this judgment based on physics or politics? The Obama team says physics. Yet it has obsessively defined itself as the antithesis of its predecessor. Against the image it has worked so hard to project, hydrogen is Bush fuel and, therefore, unsupportable.

According to a recent Washington Post article by Peter Whoriskey, the Bush effort yielded results.

Whoriskey quoted Mike O’Brien, vice-president of product planning at Hundai, as describing hydrogen fuel-cell technology for cars as “virtually ready to go.”

But the Obama administration has other ideas.

In protest to its antihydrogen approach, two members of a federal hydrogen advisory committee recently resigned, Whorisskey reported.

One of them, Byron McCormick, former director of the General Motors fuel-cell team, said he resigned “because of the closed-mindedness of the administration on these matters.” He cited a “seeming unwillingness to talk or discuss or even share any real technological basis for believing fuel cells and hydrogen will or won’t work.”

From the Obama administration, after all, there can be no Bush fuel.

So taxpayers have invested money in one energy strategy for which there will be no follow-through as the government veers toward a different agenda, which might or might not be technically and economically superior.

Energy policy based on governmental fuel choice can’t escape this kind of political caprice. So it seldom if ever produces commercially sustainable energy supply, which is another way of saying it usually fails and therefore wastes public money.

The government should support development of new energy forms. But it should leave fuel choice to the market.

(Online Apr. 29, 2011; author’s e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)

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