Congress is Bullish on Hydrogen Funding (Defying the Energy Department)

Last Updated Jul 22, 2009 6:07 PM EDT

With very little attention in the media, Congress appears to be ready to rebuff Energy Secretary Steven Chu's attempt to cut $100 million earmarked for hydrogen and fuel cells in the 2010 budget.

Declaring that he didn't see fuel-cell cars as likely to happen anytime soon, Chu slashed funding from $168 million in the 2009 budget to just $68 for 2010. But the House approved $153 million last Friday, and the Senate Appropriations Committee is set to vote on an even larger $190 million amount. That Senate vote could come before the August 7 recess, but that's not guaranteed.

Hydrogen and fuel cells have a powerful lobby, both on Capitol Hill and automakers--who see it as the possible next step after battery electrics. According to Patrick Serfass, a spokesman for the National Hydrogen Association, "Congress continues to show that [it is] on the same page with industry and that the smart path forward is a balanced portfolio approach to developing alternative vehicles. Government's role is to help get new, game-changing technologies to market and then let the consumers decide which products they want to buy."

Robert Rose, executive director of the U.S. Fuel Cell Council, added, "Fuel cell and hydrogen programs were among the very few that were increased by the House, as clear a statement as there can be that Congress support fuel cells as a part of the nation's energy portfolio."

Automakers remain relatively bullish on hydrogen. Toyota spokesman John Hanson says that fuel-cell cars have progressed faster in the last five years than comparable battery vehicles. And Michio Shinohara, who launched the Honda Insight--currently the bestselling hybrid in Japan--said last week that he thinks the real action is with the company's FCX Clarity fuel-cell car, which he's also working on.

Flickr/Alan D