At first blush, it doesn’t add up. George W. Bush announces plans to spend more than a billion dollars to put affordable hydrogen cars on the road by 2020 and environmental groups line up to denounce the plan.
A hydrogen-car program is a big step forward for an administration that has been at best indifferent to alternative energy. As President Bush explained, hydrogen can be produced from abundant sources, is clean and can sharply reduce our oil imports. “If we develop hydrogen power to its full potential, we can reduce our demand for oil by over 11 million barrels per day by the year 2040,” the president told a cheering audience as he described his plans.
But 2040 is a long way off; so is 2020. As environmentalists point out, the president’s plan ignores current energy problems — and the proven solutions available today. Programs for energy-efficient building technologies would be cut by 21 percent in the new budget. Funding for research into renewable energy sources like solar, geothemal and biomass would also be trimmed.
Energy and other environmental programs have been a target for Republican budget-choppers for years. Fortunately, those efforts have had enough popular support that the most draconian cuts have been averted. It would be a shame if those programs were undermined by a hydrogen-car program — or vice versa. The hydrogen-car effort is laudable, even necessary. But, as things stand now, it’s legitimate to ask whether the hydrogen-car effort is as much a smokescreen as a pollution-prevention plan.