Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

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Before Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Hydrogen Hub Act has even been filed for the 2022 legislative session, over 30 environmental groups have called on the state to discard the Governor’s bill in the upcoming session and initiate a broad public process to fully evaluate pursuing a hydrogen economy in New Mexico. The groups contend the draft bill is conceptually and fatally flawed. They advocate the state taking a step back to evaluate whether fossil gas hydrogen is suitable for New Mexico and defer new hydrogen legislation until it completes a broad, meaningful stockholder process.

A number of lawmakers have also expressed concern at the fast pace at which the effort is moving. The bill is dead in a methane cloud if environmentalists have their way.

Lujan Grisham’s Hydrogen Hub Act is designed to make New Mexico a national hub in hydrogen production so the state can grab some of the $8 billion in federal funding included in President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure investment plan.

Rep. Kristina Ortez (D-Taos) said she had many “questions and concerns” about hydrogen at a legislative committee meeting.

Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, said New Mexico is “not prepared or at the stage” to begin active hydrogen production and suggested creating a work group to delve into the issue.

“The communities that we’re talking to, this is really like happening in real time, fast-paced, and we’re having to provide them a lot of the education [and] information,” said Joseph Hernandez, Diné energy organizer for the NAVA Education Project.

The initial draft of the bill hit a big snag when it received a thumbs down from environmental groups warning that hydrogen is a “false solution” for renewable energy. The draft bill had to go back to the drawing board to try to come up with a bill that was easier to swallow and still get that money from the Federal government. It is expected to be prefiled.

The Governor and her allies say hydrogen is a green energy solution and that the proposed bill will reduce the state’s economic dependence on the fossil fuel industry, create jobs and reduce greenhouse gases. Over 96 percent of hydrogen production in the U.S. requires fossil fuels, and burning hydrogen is worse for the environment than burning coal.

Indigenous, environmental, social justice and public health advocates are adamant in their opposition to any proposal that continues a reliance on state revenue from fossil fuel fracking and props up a hydrogen economy. They view it as a potentially dangerous distraction to legitimate climate solutions. Opponents to a hydrogen hub in the state point out a recent peer-reviewed study that says blue hydrogen has a 20 percent greater carbon footprint than burning coal or natural gas.

One environmental advocacy group, Earthjustice, warned in a report that hydrogen cannot serve as a “silver bullet” against climate change. The report said hydrogen is a “false solution” for renewable fuels and that injecting hydrogen into either pipelines or household appliances could pose a major safety hazard. The report warned policymakers to be wary of the potential use of hydrogen as a “marketing tool” that fossil fuel companies could use to dissuade a broader transition to electricity.

When those in the fossil fuel industry saw a declining demand for their products, they began promoting hydrogen as an alternative, Tom Solomon, a retired electrical engineer and co-coordinator for 350 New Mexico, a climate advocacy group said, calling it a “false green solution.”

Tó Nizhóní Ání Organizer Jessica Keetso said 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,” she said.

Travis Madsen, transportation program director at the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, advocates that New Mexico develop a comprehensive strategy to decarbonize the entire state economy, and fit hydrogen into the plan where it will do the most good. “Hydrogen will likely be an important tool to clean up parts of the economy that clean electricity and batteries can’t efficiently reach. But the plan should come first.”

Hernandez of NAVA also said that using fossil gas hydrogen would require sequestering carbon dioxide in communities that have multiple generations of compromised health problems. “It is important that frontline and impacted communities are centered in these policy decisions. Investments should not be made into a hydrogen economy when throughout the Navajo Nation region many people still do not have running water or electricity. There needs to be serious investments in the areas of education, housing, general infrastructure and broadband while ensuring that we are building a strong clean energy workforce. On behalf of our Earth Mother and future generations, we cannot support a false solution,” Hernandez said.

“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,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center  

A statement issued from the Governor’s Press Office summed up the Administration’s point of view.

“Hydrogen must be a part of the planet’s climate solutions and efforts to reach net zero emissions. Climate experts agree that the energy challenges facing the world cannot be solved by any single approach – that’s why New Mexico is developing a robust portfolio of clean energy solutions: solar, wind, geothermal – and now hydrogen. All of our climate work is done with our goals in mind – and we know that a clean hydrogen economy gets us to net zero.”