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Blue skies, nothing but blue skies

By Justin Reedy

Only in the twisted reality the world has become since George W. Bush has taken office could the environmentally benign hydrogen-powered car be turned into a pollution machine.

The hydrogen fuel cell can drive a full-size car by generating electric energy, with the only byproduct of the reaction being water vapor, making it one of the cleanest forms of energy generation available.

But the Bush administration, which is clearly tied to the traditional energy industry and not the largest supporter of alternative energy, has taken this idea and perverted it, according to a recent report by Mother Jones magazine.

A fuel cell takes hydrogen – which can be generated by splitting water molecules through wind or solar power – and recombines those atoms with oxygen. That reaction releases excess electrons (those of us who slept in high school chemistry raise your hands?) which are then used to drive an electric motor that powers a car.

Obviously a great idea, considering such cars rely on a renewable energy source, unlike traditional gasoline-powered cars, and that the cars are quickly moving from concept to reality. Dan Rather was even driving one on the evening news a few weeks ago, and said that the car was "faster than a blue tick hound chasing a varmint fresh from the henhouse." (Nobody I talked to knew what that meant.)

Bush even announced in his State of the Union address that he hoped to secure $1.2 billion in funding to help in developing the fuel cell car, which he said would be "pollution-free."

The only problem with that statement is that if Bush has his way in the development of the hydrogen car it will be anything but free of pollution, and could even contribute as many pollutants to the atmosphere as traditional fossil fuel vehicles.

The administration's plan for the development of hydrogen energy, which was drafted with the assistance of the traditional energy industry (though Dick Cheney won't admit it), the hydrogen used as the energy source will be created by methods that pollute. Instead of splitting hydrogen using solar or wind power, the plan calls for 90 percent of the hydrogen to be refined from oil, coal and natural gas in a process powered by fossil fuels. The other 10 percent? Cracking water in a nuclear reaction would create that hydrogen.

Let me get this straight – we're on the verge of creating a clean-burning engine that only generates water vapor as a byproduct, and we're going to create the fuel for that engine using two of the dirtiest, most polluting types of energy? Nuclear energy is widely touted by conservatives as a way to remove our dependency on fossil fuels, but the byproducts of that reaction are incredibly harmful and remain that way for generations. And if the entire point of alternative energy is to remove fossil fuels from the equation (they are going to run out, you know), then why use them as an energy source when you don't have to do so?

It's easy to see why – the administration's ties to the energy industry. An executive from ChevronTexaco chaired the board that drafted the president's hydrogen energy plan; I'm sure that person had an objective view of alternative energy. (Also of note is the fact that the National Hydrogen Association, which was founded in 1989 by scientists from universities and the government to foster the development of clean-burning hydrogen power, has since been taken over by executives from Shell, BP and ChevronTexaco. Those same companies are acquiring companies working on hydrogen fuel technology, no doubt ensuring their industry's prominent role in implementing the alternative fuel source.)

Cries of "No war for oil!" resounded throughout the world prior to and during our conquest of Iraq, but have died down now that the war is over and done with. But with such a startling lack of evidence of the massive stockpile of weapons of mass destruction – allegedly our reasoning behind the invasion – and a wealth of evidence showing the administration's buddies making windfalls in the billions from the conflict, maybe it's time to re-examine the motives behind the war.

This is also the opportune time to question whether Bush's "environmental" policies (and I use that term ever so loosely) are actually meant to accomplish anything other than pad the pockets of his corporate cronies. Ask someone with the National Park Service what they think about changes to the logging rights rules, and that will give you a clear picture of what side Bush is on.

Not questioning these policies will come back to haunt us in a few more decades, when smog season lasts year round, the entire country has been paved over and then, all of the sudden, none of us have any gas to put in our fossil fuel-powered cars because that resource just ran out.

Justin Reedy covers county government for the News Daily. His column appears on Thursdays. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 281 or via e-mail at jreedy@news-daily.com.