• February 3rd, 2023
  • Friday, 11:02:46 AM

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Groups to Lawmakers: Fossil-Fueled Hydrogen is a Climate Threat


On Tuesday, a coalition of New México community, environmental, and justice organizations warned state and federal lawmakers of the risks of diving head-first into fossil-fueled hydrogen projects. The groups’ letter provides guidance on the context and safeguards that must be enacted before hydrogen projects are considered in the San Juan Basin, and in New México generally.


The oil and gas industry has lobbied for billions in taxpayer funds for hydrogen in the coming federal infrastructure bill, and states, including New México, are scrambling to win those funds for “hydrogen hubs.” But hydrogen derived from fossil gas presents significant climate and health dangers, driving new methane, carbon dioxide and other emissions as well as a massive new market for fracked gas, just when scientists tell us it is most urgent to dramatically scale back our consumption of fossil fuels.


“Northwest New México has an opportunity to transition to renewable energy, severing historic reliance on fossil fuels. That should be our priority. We have been here before. We have seen the fossil fuel industry attempt to repackage fossil fuels with concepts such as ‘clean coal’ and natural gas as a ‘bridge fuel’ over the past 15 years which has contributed to our climate crisis and continuing carbon and methane liabilities. This approach has cost taxpayers billions of dollars and worsened pollution and adverse public health impacts in Northwest New México, as some foresee with fossil fuel hydrogen,” said Mike Eisenfeld, climate and energy program manager, San Juan Citizens Alliance.


Hydrogen production is already responsible for 3-4% of the world’s greenhouse gas pollution, more than all of Germany’s emissions. Nearly all current hydrogen production involves an energy-intensive process fueled by methane and emitting carbon dioxide. The fossil-fuel industry has been promoting projects that use carbon capture to reduce that considerable climate impact, labeling this “blue” hydrogen. Research has found that even with a slick marketing sheen, this process still causes climate damage. As critical as state and federal methane safeguards are, even New México’s own estimate of the impact of proposed methane rules was within the range where researchers found that fossil-fuel hydrogen would be more harmful to the climate than gas at a power plant.


“It is even more important to recognize that the Navajo Nation still has 40% of its population living in housing without electricity or indoor plumbing. The Navajo Nation is a testament to how the fossil fuel industries have failed the economy, the environment and the people.”
Jessica Keetso, Tó Nizhóní Ání


In addition, all hydrogen, even renewable-generated green hydrogen, produces health-damaging nitrogen oxide (NOx) when combusted, by some estimates six times more than burning methane. NOx pollution can cause serious health impacts including asthma and increased chance of respiratory infections. NOx is also a precursor to particulate matter and ozone, which are also harmful to the respiratory system. Hydrogen and carbon-dioxide transport both present major safety issues, as does storage of such massive amounts of CO2.


“The Navajo Nation has recognized that climate change is real. The Navajo Nation Council passed a Climate Change Adaptation Plan through legislation in 2019,” said Jessica Keetso, Tó Nizhóní Ání organizer. “However, because the Navajo Nation is at an economic disadvantage, especially since coal is going away from the region, the Nation could be persuaded to back gas hydrogen if fossil-fuel interests start making promises of phantom money to the right people. It is important for Navajo leadership to remember that this year alone, the Navajo Nation has suffered major losses due to extreme weather events ranging from loss of life in catastrophic flooding to water scarcity and water restrictions imposed on Diné people by tribal entities. It is even more important to recognize that the Navajo Nation still has 40% of its population living in housing without electricity or indoor plumbing. The Navajo people are still trying to figure out how we’ll get water for ourselves and our livestock today. The Navajo Nation is a testament to how the fossil fuel industries have failed the economy, the environment and the people. If hydrogen further exacerbates the climate crisis we are experiencing on the Navajo Nation already, then Navajo has no business pursuing, investing in, or endorsing hydrogen.”


Prioritizing fossil gas hydrogen could also divert and delay needed state investments in renewable energy infrastructure, limits on carbon emissions, methane reductions, a transition to 100% electric vehicles, and making New México families’ homes more affordable, safe, and energy efficient. These investments — not taxpayer-subsidized handouts to the gas industry — are the pathways to a climate-resilient clean-energy economy that provides stability for workers and families.


“We simply cannot afford to create new climate pollution. Even the more optimistic ‘blue hydrogen’ proposals aspire to only 90% carbon capture. When scaled up to the level of production that fossil industries are aiming for, that 10% creates a significant climate impact. For electricity, renewable energy and storage can do the job more efficiently and affordably with zero carbon emissions — not 10%, but zero,” said Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter Director Camilla Feibelman.



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