President Joe Biden speaks at Tioga Marine Terminal on October 13, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.(Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA — President Joe Biden told an audience of union workers and elected officials gathered at the Tioga Marine Terminal on Friday that $7 billion going toward seven regional hydrogen power hubs in 16 states would be “transformational” for the United States.
“I truly believe that this country is about to take off because, for the first time in a long time, we’re actually investing in America,” Biden said. And, he said, the investment would benefit both the middle class and the climate. “When I think climate, I think jobs,” Biden said. “Good paying jobs, union jobs.”
The Biden administration announced the hydrogen hubs plan earlier on Friday. Two of the hubs, the Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub, or ARCH2, and the Mid-Atlantic Clean Hydrogen Hub, or MACH2, will include Pennsylvania. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said Friday that MACH2 would receive up to $750 million and the ARCH2 would receive up to $925 million.
The projects, each of which is a cluster of assets that produce and process hydrogen fuel as an alternative to fossil fuels, will benefit the climate, the economy and U.S. energy security, according to the administration. The hubs are part of the Biden administration’s stated goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2050. The funding comes from the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law passed in 2021.
“The workers who powered our nation for generations can now work and produce clean hydrogen,” Biden said. “It’s like my hometown of Scranton: Communities that were once thriving coal mining and power plant towns will now be the center of our new clean energy economy. We’re restoring hope and opportunity and dignity along the way. That was my commitment. And that’s what we’re delivering.”
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said Friday that the hydrogen hubs marked the dawn of a new manufacturing sector in the U.S. The so-called clean hydrogen economy is the “Swiss Army knife of zero-carbon solutions,” Granholm said. “It does just about everything.”
Gov. Josh Shapiro took to the podium ahead of the president to remind the audience that after part of Interstate-95 collapsed amid a truck crash in June, the state rebuilt the damaged portion of the road in 12 days. He noted that Pennsylvania was the only state on the list to have two regional hydrogen hubs. “Look, grit, ingenuity, toughness, that helped Pennsylvania build this nation,” Shapiro said. “It helped Pennsylvania rebuild I-95 in just 12 days, and it will now lead the next chapter in our American story around innovation and opportunity and clean energy right here in the Commonwealth.”
Earlier in the day, Shapiro said his administration had “provided significant financial support” to MACH2’s Department of Energy application. But while Shapiro celebrated the news, others questioned the efficiency of hydrogen hubs as a solution to climate change.
“Our research has shown that the government is significantly understating the impact of producing blue hydrogen on global warming. The reality is that blue hydrogen is not clean or low-carbon,” David Schlissel, director of resource planning analysis at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said. “Pursuing this technology is wasting precious time and diverting attention from investing in more effective measures to combat global warming like wind and solar resources, battery storage and energy efficiency.”
Democratic state Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, whose Chester County district would be near the proposed MACH2 hub, called on legislative colleagues to improve the regulatory framework that would oversee the hubs.
“Unleashing a taxpayer-funded hydrogen revolution led by the same old fossil fuel interests and corporate polluters on Pennsylvania today, under our current, inadequate regulatory framework, would be irresponsible and reckless,” Otten said, noting that the executive heading the MACH2 project also oversaw Energy Transfer’s Mariner East project, which resulted in more than 120 violations from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
“Hydrogen technology is an important part of a clean-energy transition, with the potential to fuel hard-to-decarbonize sectors like steel and cement manufacturing, chemical production, long-haul transportation, and aviation. But without adequate regulation, oversight, and scrutiny, this proposal has the potential to be the latest exercise in greenwashing,” Otten said.
Beth Trask, vice president of Global Energy Transition at the Environmental Defense Fund called hydrogen a “critical path … to decarbonize the energy system.” Still, she added that its “powerful warming effect” means preventing leaks into the atmosphere will be essential for the newly built hubs.
Molly Parzen, executive director of Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, echoed Trask’s comments that hydrogen hubs are part of the larger strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“While new and emerging technology like hydrogen can be effective with some hard-to-decarbonize industries, its use is just one small part of the overall strategy we need to fight climate change,” Parzen said, calling for labor and environmental justice communities to be involved in conversations around the development of the hydrogen sector.
The president spoke for about 25 minutes on Friday, before a giant banner reading “Bidenomics,” the phrase for his economic policies invented by critics that the president has co-opted as a positive.
“I love Bidenomics,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said Friday. “It’s prioritizing working people by growing our economy from the middle out and the bottom up, not the top down.”
Kim Lyons of the Capital-Star staff contributed.
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