Thursday, January 30, 2003

Fuel cell cars get big push from Bush

By Doug Abrahms
Gannett News Service

WASHINGTON - President Bush gave the fuel cell industry a shot in the arm by announcing in his State of the Union address that he wants to more than double federal funding to research the eco-friendly technology.

"I was taken by surprise it was (in Bush's speech), but it's just an excellent move - a visionary move," said Ron Cogan, publisher of the Green Car Journal. "Our future, I truly believe, is the fuel cell."

But critics say Bush's focus on fuel cells is an effort to divert attention from his poor record on protecting the environment. Fuel cells could be a vital technology in a generation but will do little to cut oil consumption in the short term, environmentalists said.

Car makers, energy companies and others have invested more than $1 billion over the past few years to develop fuel cells, which convert hydrogen into electricity with water. The technology is both nonpolluting and reduces oil consumption, but has not proven economically viable. Bush, who last year announced support for fuel cell research, proposed increasing funding to $1.2 billion over five years - an increase of $720 million. This comes at a time of increased concern about global warming and preparation for a possible invasion of Iraq that has roil prices at a two-year high.

Progress has been made developing fuel cell batteries and small electric generators for buildings. But putting the technology under the hood at affordable prices is a still a decade away at best, said David Redstone, publisher of the Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Investors' Newsletter.

Two Democratic senators and environmentalists criticized Bush's fuel cell plan as promising something far down the road while doing little to curb auto emissions now.

The Bush administration opposes meaningful fuel economy standards for new cars and is fighting California's efforts to reduce vehicle greenhouse gas emissions, said David Hawkins, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Climate Center.

Contributing: Faith Bremner, GNS

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