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Remarks by the Hon. Lynn Woolsey on the Future of Hydrogen Energy

May 6, 2003
Press Release
<em>U.S. Hydrogen Energy Coalition Symposium for Professionals<br> National Press Club, Washington, D.C.</em>
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA); Click photo to visit her website.Thank you for the invitation to discuss the future of hydrogen energy. As our country debates a national energy policy and also strives toward greater energy independence, it's smart public policy to include the development of hydrogen energy as part of the debate and part of our national energy priorities.

My home state of California, and especially the Bay area district I represent - Marin and Sonoma counties, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco - are keenly aware of the need to re-examine our national energy priorities.

For too long we've been a nation that has made shortsighted decisions about our energy future and put our faith in fossil fuels as our primary energy source. On a global scale, our faith in fossil fuel-based power has contributed to a rise in greenhouse gases and the onset of global climate change. And, let us not forget that our dependence on fossil fuels makes us less secure as a nation.

That's why I believe we need to chart a new energy strategy. This means embracing the use of alternative energy sources while reducing our overall demand for electricity.

In the short term, we must identify - and invest in developing, prioritizing and promoting - alternative energy sources and the use of more energy efficient technologies. In the long term, our investments must be in clean energy sources that supplement current power sources. During my time in Congress, this has been one of my top priorities.

And, last Congress, as the Ranking Member of the Science Committee's Energy Subcommittee, I used my position to do just that as we worked on an Energy Bill. There's no doubt in my mind that an investment in renewable energy will protect our environment and guarantee a better future for our children.

While I'm not an expert on hydrogen energy, it's not hard to see why hydrogen energy is poised to be a part of our energy future.

Hydrogen's appeal is that it has numerous applications in the residential and industrial energy sectors - and of course, for transportation we're already seeing the first generation of cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells, and, as the most abundant element in the universe, hydrogen also has the advantage that its only by-product is water.

While it's not unrealistic to believe hydrogen energy is in our future, it would be unrealistic to gloss over the fact that a hydrogen economy still faces complex challenges.

Until recently, hydrogen's use - especially in fuel cells - has been limited to laboratories and to "out of the ordinary" uses like space travel. It's also probably fair to say that there are public safety concerns about hydrogen, as public awareness of the Hindenberg disaster in 1937 is still remembered.

And, one of the main challenges is the issue of hydrogen storage - as most experts agree -- that hydrogen's volatility has been a critical hurdle to its commercialization. Closely associated with this is the development of an infrastructure to deliver hydrogen in the mass quantity needed to make it a viable alternative to our current energy sources.

Yet, we all know "where there is a will... there is a way."

So, in this day of amazing scientific and technological progress, we must think that these issues will also be addressed. In an effort to invest federal attention and resources on hydrogen energy during the last Congress, my Republican Science Committee colleague, Rep. Ken Calvert, introduced the "Hydrogen Energy Act."

I was proud to join him as the lead Democratic co-sponsor, as we called for a robust R&D program for production, storage, transportation and use of hydrogen for commercial, transportation and utility applications. And, as I'm sure our wonderful Chairman Sherry Boehlert has shared with you in greater detail, this year's Science Committee Energy Bill included a significant new investment in hydrogen R&D.

However, while I applaud these efforts, I think there's an even bigger challenge before us as we strive for a hydrogen future. Right now, we can produce hydrogen, but the main source of domestic hydrogen today is fossil fuels. That has to change. We need to invest our resources into finding ways to produce hydrogen through renewable sources and with a sustainable method.

That's why earlier this Congress I introduced H.R. 1343, the "Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Act," and in it directed the Department of Energy to minimize the production of hydrogen from fossil fuels, because using fossil fuels to make hydrogen creates pollution, and we all know that fossil fuels are a finite resource. It does no good to create a non-sustainable hydrogen economy that will actually contribute to the depletion of its main resource.

There's no doubt that it's a big challenge to create a hydrogen economy - especially one weaned from fossil fuels. Yet, the benefits are immense - we could actually realize a world that runs on sustainable, pollution-free energy.

In the process, this would help solve our air pollution problems, eliminate our dependence on foreign oil, and create good jobs here in the United States.

But, to be successful, we need to make the commitment to this vision, and we need to do it now - we must make sustainable hydrogen a new frontier in renewable energy research and development.

There are certainly more questions about the future of hydrogen than we have answers. But, as the saying goes, all good things take time; nothing worthwhile is easy; and where there's a will, there's a way.

In this case, the evidence suggests that even though a hydrogen economy is years away, the investment must be made and the grand pay-off worth the wait. Our future, and that of our children's future, depends on it.

If we start working toward this goal, now, we will be able to truly realize the promise of a clean, renewable, energy-independent future that a hydrogen economy offers.
108th Congress