WASHINGTON – President Bush urged Congress on Thursday to help move hydrogen fuel cell cars from the laboratory to the showroom as soon as possible to boost American's economic and national security.
"Hydrogen fuel cells represent one of the most encouraging, innovative technologies of our era," Bush told those attending a press conference at the National Building Museum. "Let us promote hydrogen fuel cells as a way to advance into the 21st century."
In his State of the Union address last week, Bush announced a $1.2 billion hydrogen fuel initiative to decrease America's growing dependence on foreign oil by developing technology for commercially viable hydrogen-powered fuel cells. These cells will power cars, trucks, homes and businesses with no pollution and reduced greenhouse gases.
The president also encouraged lawmakers to put a comprehensive energy bill on his desk by the end of the year. Last year's energy bill, which included drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and billions in tax breaks for renewable energy and conservation programs, never made it to the president's desk.
"It is a plan needed for economic security. It's a plan needed for national security," he said.
But the president is already taking heat from Democratic lawmakers, who scolded him for not seeking ways to reduce foreign oil dependence.
"There's no question that finding a way to make an affordable hydrogen car would be as revolutionary to the world of energy as finding a cure for cancer in the world of health," Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said in a statement. "But we don't abstain from technological leaps forward in the treatment of the disease while we are searching for the cure."
Later in the afternoon, Democratic Sens. Hilary Clinton of New York and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota introduced a $6.5 billion bill that would speed up the process of researching further hydrogen fuel cell use in cars, homes, appliances and other items. About $2.3 billion in the 10-year-plan would go toward research and development on fuel cell technology and $700 million would go toward tax incentives for people to buy these vehicles.
"On this issue, there can and will be a bipartisan effort to make this happen," Dorgan said. "I think this can be one big idea, one bold idea that makes it even in a Congress that is split 50-50."
While calling Bush's initiative "a very important step," Dorgan and Clinton said it doesn't go far enough, fast enough, but it has legs.
"There's an old saying: When elephants fly, you don't criticize them for not being perfect,'" Dorgan said. "That saying applies to this administration, in my judgment."
America currently imports 55 percent of its oil, but that number is expected to grow by 68 percent by 2025. Two-thirds of the 20 million barrels of oil used each day in this country goes to transportation.
Through Bush's $500 million FreedomCAR initiative — which is a public-private partnership with automakers to advance high technology research for mass production of hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles — and the $1.2 billion hydrogen fuel initiative, the Energy Department estimates that U.S. demand for petroleum may be reduced by over 11 million barrels per day by 2040.
"That would be a fantastic legacy to leave for future generations of Americans," Bush said.
If Bush's initiative is enacted by Congress this year, the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by fuel cells.
The hydrogen cell initiative includes $720 million in new funding over five years to develop technologies and infrastructures to produce, store and distribute hydrogen for use in fuel cell vehicles and electricity generation.
While motor vehicles have already been engineered to run hydrogen fuel cells, other devices such as cell phones and laptops are also being researched for how they can run on these cells, as well.
But first, production obstacles must be overcome. Currently, fuel cells are not efficient and the cost is still too high. The United States also needs to find ways to increase the capacity of hydrogen storage systems.
Along with that, Bush said, citizens need to begin changing non-environmentally friendly habits and infrastructures.
The president said the United States will work with other countries such as Canada, Great Britain, Japan, Russia and China to build a fusion test facility to create the "largest and most advanced fusion experiment in the world" in order to figure out how best to heat homes and businesses from fusion power plants.
Bush called on Congress to schedule fast hearings for his Clear Skies Initiative, which plans to cut power plant emissions of the three worst air pollutants — nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and mercury — by 70 percent. The White House claims the initiative will improve air quality using a proven, market-based approach.