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The Hydrogen Economy and Its Potential Impacts

January 2005

Citation: ELR 10003

Author: Arnold W. Reitze, Jr. and Jennifer B. Heaven

I. Introduction

Air pollution emissions that prevent many areas of the country from achieving the Clean Air Act's (CAA's) national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) could be reduced if cleaner sources of energy were utilized. Clean energy supplied by domestic sources also could provide benefits to the overall environment, the economy and to national security. President George W. Bush announced in his 2003 State of the Union Address that his Administration believes hydrogen fuel should help provide for the future energy needs of the United States. The Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) have declared their goal is to use hydrogen in vehicles by 2015 and to implement a "hydrogen economy," with the necessary infrastructure to make, transport, store, and use hydrogen as a fuel for fuel cell vehicles by 2020. This will be a substantial challenge because in 2002, there were 518, alternative vehicles in use in the United States, but none used hydrogen.

Hydrogen usually serves as an energy carrier that is derived from some other primary fuel. The existing infrastructure for petroleum-based fuels is unlikely to accommodate hydrogen fuel; a new infrastructure will take many years to build, and the effort will be expensive and politically difficult to accomplish. Without the necessary infrastructure, investors will be wary about supporting this technology. Moreover, the transport and storage of hydrogen is potentially dangerous; containment methods are prone to leak and present safety risks.

Arnold Reitze Jr. is the J.B. & Maurice C. Shapiro Professor of Environmental Law and Director of the Environmental Law Program at the George Washington University Law School, and of counsel to McGlinchey Stafford PLLC. Jennifer Heaven received an LL.M. from the George Washington University Law School, and a J.D. from the University of Alabama. The authors wish to thank Prof. Debra Jacobson for her valuable comments and to acknowledge the assistance of Ms. Winnie Hercules, legal secretary, and Ms. Germaine Leahy, head of reference, at the George Washington law library.

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