11 Democrats push for loose rules for hydrogen energy, breaking with climate hawk colleagues

A group of 11 Democratic senators are pushing the Biden administration to approach hydrogen energy with leniency, breaking with colleagues who want strict climate rules for the nascent energy technology.

The senators wrote to key Biden administration officials asking them not to require projects to follow certain climate-related stipulations in order to qualify for a lucrative tax credit.

They argue that such stipulations would be overly burdensome for the emerging hydrogen energy industry and that they would raise costs and delay projects. 

“In the long term, this may hamper the development of a robust clean hydrogen market, undermine … production and price-parity goals, reduce the positive effects of scaling up … investment, and prevent clean hydrogen from fulfilling vital roles in hard to decarbonize sectors.”

Hydrogen energy is created by separating hydrogen from oxygen in water molecules.

Some see this type of energy as a potential climate solution, since it can be used in sectors like aviation and steel manufacturing that are otherwise difficult to cut emissions from. 

The lawmakers’ letter is dated Tuesday and was obtained by The Hill on Wednesday after it was shared with trade groups working on the issue. 

The letter pushing for loose requirements was signed by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), John Fetterman (D-Pa.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.). 

It comes after a group of eight senators wrote their own letter pushing for strict climate rules last month.

These lawmakers argued that without such rules, even hydrogen powered by clean energy may indirectly boost demand for planet-warming fossil fuels by taking existing energy from the grid. 

They wrote that in such a scenario, “the program would undermine climate progress and lead to the production of hydrogen with a true emissions intensity higher than even its conventional fossil fuel-derived counterpart.”

Last month’s letter pushing for stricter requirements was signed by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.). 

The dueling letters represent a tough choice ahead for the Biden administration as it weighs whether to put stipulations on hydrogen producers who want to qualify for tax credits passed in the Democrats’ climate, tax and healthcare bill. 

In particular, the requirements lawmakers are debating would require that hydrogen producers come alongside their own clean energy sources instead of pulling from otherwise available energy sources. 

Other principles up for debate are whether hydrogen energy should be required to use energy from its same geographic region and produced within the same hour as its use.

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