SACRAMENTO, CA – Environmental justice and climate advocates are calling for greater transparency and representation in California's application to the Department of Energy to become a “hydrogen hub,” saying the process so far has been opaque and prohibitive to meaningful community engagement.
While ARCHES, the entity leading California’s application process, states that stakeholder and community-engagement will be “built-in and ensured at all stages of the process” and that “impacted, disadvantaged, low-income and tribal communities will be prioritized in all decisions,” participating environmental justice organizations’ requests for more transparent processes, robust community engagement, and a focus on community representation within governance structures have all gone unaddressed. Advocates note that a hydrogen hub in California could provide important economic and environmental benefits, but only if executed with transparency, community engagement and safeguards to prevent investments in projects that perpetuate injustice and fossil fuel pollution.
“ARCHES’ proposed draft Governance structure and their community engagement process so far has not prioritized environmental justice or public health and has not met even the most basic standards of transparency and meaningful community engagement,” said Bahram Fazeli, policy director with Communities for a Better Environment. “We hope that in the time that remains before submission of the proposal to the Department of Energy on April 7th, Governor Newsom will direct his staff to engage with the environmental justice community and improve these aspects of the proposal, which can lead to good projects in creating good union jobs and benefiting vulnerable frontline communities.”
Advocates underscore that without critical guardrails to protect and benefit environmental justice communities, hydrogen development could worsen climate change and exacerbate existing inequities. Community organizations have submitted a number of letters and made appeals to the ARCHES leadership requesting the following:
- Greater representation in ARCHES’s governance structure for environmental justice organizations and public health sector that represent frontline communities of color who have borne the brunt of fossil fuel pollution.
- Transparent community engagement processes that encourage greater community participation in project selection and development.
- Safeguards to protect communities from significant potential health, air quality, and safety risks associated with hydrogen production, transportation, storage, and use.
- Critical guardrails on production, transportation, storage and use that ensure hydrogen is only produced from electrolysis using off-grid renewable energy; never blended with fossil gas; exclusively used for hard-to-electrify industries that do not increase air pollution; and that leak-prone and explosive hydrogen pipelines, storage, end use and production facilities are sited safely away from communities.
“For too long, California’s climate policies have focused on greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategies that perpetuate pollution in environmental justice communities,” said Jamie Katz, Staff Attorney, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. “ARCHES will repeat these mistakes unless it corrects course and engages communities in its process.”
Green hydrogen produced from electrolysis of renewable energy emits no carbon dioxide, but when burned it is a potent source of NOx emissions — a key ingredient in smog that also contributes to respiratory issues like asthma. Because of its small size and corrosive nature, hydrogen is prone to leakage. Hydrogen’s highly explosive nature makes leaky pipelines and infrastructure especially dangerous for nearby communities. When leaked into the atmosphere, the climate warming impacts of hydrogen, an indirect greenhouse gas, are 33 times worse than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period. States across the country have been developing their applications for the highly sought after hydrogen hub funding program established by the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
“California has an incredible opportunity to advance climate progress and community-led energy solutions,” said Sierra Club’s California Energy Director Monica Embrey. “But without proper guardrails there is great risk of continued environmental injustice with worse climate and public health outcomes. We are counting on ARCHES to center environmental justice communities and climate organizations to ensure the state’s green hydrogen hub development benefits all Californians and not only fossil fuel interests.”
“Establishing a hydrogen hub in California is very important in decarbonizing hard-to-abate sectors, like ocean shipping,” said Teresa Bui, State Climate Policy Director for Pacific Environment. “We need the state of California to do this in the right way by ensuring that federal funds go to projects that truly provide clean solutions, providing a transparent process so all community members’ voices can be heard and by safeguarding the safety for these communities so they are not put at risk.”
“An environmentally just world requires the leadership of frontline communities. ARCHES’ leadership has yet to put community engagement and protections at the forefront, and without them, the project is doomed to fail the communities who most desperately need a just transition to clean and renewable energy. The success of this project mustn't come at the cost of the health and safety of our communities.” - Ingrid Brostrom, Assistant Director, Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment.
“Bringing in federal funds for a hydrogen hub in California could be a win-win for the environment and economic opportunity, if there are standards and accountability to make sure the funds support truly clean projects,” said Sara Gersen, Senior Attorney at Earthjustice. “If tax dollars go to polluters’ pet projects, we risk building a hydrogen hub that would intensify California’s climate crisis and smog troubles.”
“California has an opportunity to establish a hydrogen hub the right way,” said Merrian Borgeson, Director, California Policy, Climate & Clean Energy program at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “This must include better and active inclusion of community and environmental stakeholders to make sure hydrogen projects avoid increasing pollution or distracting from opportunities to use clean electricity directly to replace fossil fuels.”
About the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.