Friday, January 11, 2002

Bush is ending the Clinton administration's program to encourage the auto manufacturers to produce high fuel mileage cars and replacing it with a long-term program to develop cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells. This is being spun as an environmental action against the interests of the oil companies. Nothing could be further from the truth. The best way to reduce pollution and global warming and politically unwise reliance on dodgy supplies of petrochemicals is to increase the fuel efficiency of vehicles (particularly, stop exempting SUV's from mandated average minimum limits per manufacturer on miles per gallon). This Bush trick just delays the reduction in oil consumption by years. Even if fuel cells were available now, they are not some magical device that produces non-polluting energy out of the air. They are in effect batteries, storage devices that store energy using hydrogen. Where do you get the hydrogen? You either get it from petrochemicals or manufacture it using another source of energy. You may gain a benefit if that source of energy is say, wind power, or if your hydrogen manufacturing and the energy used in manufacturing the fuel cells is less than the energy used in internal combustion engines. Everyone agrees, however, that the production of commercially useful fuel cells is years away. In the meantime Bush's oily pals can continue to make the big profits they would be denied if the old Clinton plan had been allowed to continue. If Bush were serious about the environment, he would maintain the old plan and introduce a new plan to develop fuel cells.