Community efforts kill NM hydrogen subsidies (for now)

By Mona Blaber, Chapter communications director
From the Spring 2022 newsletter

Community efforts kill NM hydrogen subsidies (for now), but threat of ‘blue’ hydrogen still looms

The oil and gas industry continues to push for dangerous methane-fueled “blue” hydrogen, but New Mexicans showed up in force at the 2022 legislative session to quash numerous bills offering public funds for private hydrogen schemes masquerading as solutions.

Four pieces of legislation that offered subsidies or incentives for methane-fueled, or “blue,” hydrogen development all died during the 30-day session after dozens of New Mexicans testified against the bills at each committee hearing. The bills varied, but several offered $125 million of taxpayer funds and other incentives for hydrogen projects. The bills prioritized a project that would revive the shuttered Escalante coal plant near Grants as an electricity-producing hydrogen facility. The Escalante project promises fewer than 100 permanent jobs and would cost millions more than producing the same amount of electricity via solar and storage.

Hundreds of people, including dozens of frontline community members, attended remote committee hearings to oppose the harmful gas extraction that blue hydrogen would perpetuate.

The bills got progressively less harmful in terms of the pollution levels of the hydrogen they would incentivize, but none created protective measures against methane-fueled hydrogen’s considerable safety, health and climate risks.

While “green hydrogen,” derived from water in a process powered by renewables, could be an important tool in some hard-to-decarbonize industries like steel or cement production, “blue” hydrogen causes more climate pollution than burning coal or gas for heat, according to several recent studies. This is in part because methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, leaks prolifically during extraction, processing and transmission. A recent Stanford study found a leakage rate from New Mexico’s Permian Basin that makes natural gas’s climate impact three times worse than coal’s. When the IPCC is issuing a “red alert” for humanity, we cannot afford that.

However, the oil and gas industry is falely but successfully pushing methane-fueled hydrogen as a climate solution. New Mexico has signed a memorandum of understanding with Utah, Colorado and Wyoming to apply for federal funds as a four-state “Hydrogen Hub.” New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also issued an executive order in March that directs the Economic Development Department to include hydrogen as one of its key economic sectors.

Hydrogen developers are still coming to New Mexico and other states, and the $8 billion for hydrogen hubs in federal infrastructure legislation will be distributed somewhere, but the defeat of these bills shows that we can make a difference and help decision-makers understand we must urgently act to reduce climate pollution, not create new sources of it.

Community efforts kill NM hydrogen subsidies (for now)