NHA NEWS

Hydrogen: Its Future Can Solve Pressing National Problems


by Paul Hirsch, President, Madison Government Affairs

I had the pleasure of attending the first meeting of the California Hydrogen Business Council (CHBC) on 4 June 1997 in Long Beach, California, U.S.A. The CHBC is the “brainchild” of Dave Haberman and David Moard, members of the NHA and businessmen. They seek to further the commercialization of hydrogen through program and project development. The meeting was attended by more than two dozen companies and private entrepreneurs. The creation of councils and coalitions to commercialize hydrogen as well as to put pressure on business, industry, and government officials (both elected and executive branch) is necessary if this technology is to get beyond the “horse and buggy” stage in which it presently resides.

My background is not in science or technology. I have spent the last 25+ years working in and around government in the area of military installations and congressional affairs. I had the honor to serve as the Director of Review and Analysis for the first Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission in 1991. As many of you know, there were two subsequent Commissions in 1993 and 1995. The three Commissions closed approximately 25 to 30 percent of the U.S. Department of Defense’s military installations. The new Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, has asked [the U.S.] Congress for the authority to have two more rounds of base closings. It is evident that the Department of Defense cannot conduct its perceived mission at its current level of funding. Now is the time to address our military role in the world.

If we could save a mere 10 percent of our
defense budget, where could we spend or invest US$25 billion annually?

I believe there is a significant connection to the downsizing of the [U.S.] Department of Defense and the commercialization of hydrogen. Hydrogen can be the answer to solving two of this nation’s most pressing problems. First, as an alternative to fossil fuel usage, hydrogen would significantly improve the air quality of our environment as well as the personal medical condition of millions of Americans. Second, if properly integrated into our national energy policy, the use of hydrogen would mitigate the need to size our armed forces to protect our interest in international oil fields. A theatre conflict like Desert Shield/Desert Storm would not have to be anticipated by our military planners and would, thereby, reduce the need to budget over US$250 billion annually for national defense. If we could save a mere 10 percent of our defense budget, where could we spend or invest US$25 billion annually? I’m sure that amount of money could be put to good use in education, medicine research and development, and other areas!

The United States has always depended on imported oil to meet the demands of our people and industries. At the time of the Gulf War, one in four barrels of oil used in this country was imported from the Middle East. Europe and Japan are even more dependent on imported sources of energy to fuel their ever-expanding national needs. Emerging technologies and sources of energy such as hydrogen will reduce or eliminate the requirement to import oil. These developments will improve our quality of life and limit the requirement to place our American military in harm’s way. The development of new energy technologies must be moved forward because national dependency on imported oil will only undermine our national security.

As an alternative to fossil fuel usage,
hydrogen would significantly improve the air quality of our environment.

Historically, wars have been fought based on a number of influences. Our War of Independence and the Civil War were fought over ideological or societal differences. Another force that has led to conflict between nations is the quest for natural resources to fuel a nation’s economy and growth. Japanese expansion in the Pacific in the 1920s and ’30s and World War II were a result of two factors—the need to defend the home islands and a severe requirement for natural resources that were lacking in their own country.

Clearly, the confrontation and eventual military action against Iraq in Desert Shield/Storm was about natural resources. Our role was about the protection of our lifeline to the industrial age—oil. The rhetoric about protecting democracy etc., etc., was just that—rhetoric. The real issue was protecting Kuwaiti and Saudi oil fields from an aggressor who was and would continue to be anti-American. Our national economy was and is dependent on foreign imported oil. We are fortunate that we are not as dependent as our friends in Europe. Nevertheless, the United States of America has developed a national military strategy, and deployed fighting forces, based on the protection of oil-producing countries. For the last 40 years, our military has been sized to fight another superpower; therefore, it was easy to justify the large numbers of military personnel and equipment. However, since the fall of European communism, our need for a large military force has come into question—especially, given the aforementioned environment and budgetary needs that require attention.

The American people are looking to our national leaders to address domestic issues in a manner that they have not been addressed in the past. Therefore, is there a way to address our domestic needs while we remain the country that the world looks to in the solving of international problems and conflicts, given that we are the sole remaining superpower? While the American people apparently have decided that we can live with a smaller military, any national leader who allows our military to be embarrassed or defeated will eventually pay the price at the election booth.

If properly integrated into our national
energy policy, the use of hydrogen would mitigate the need to size our
armed forces to protect our interest in international oil fields.

Is there a way to achieve a smaller military without risking failure or disaster? The answer lies in the development of a military strategy whereby we size our force to protect our interests and not based on the need to protect other nations’ natural resources which we covet. If we were energy self-sufficient or were able to live, work, and prosper without the need for enormous amounts of foreign oil, we could “rightsize” our military forces to protect our shores while still serving the role as a tool of American foreign policy. A “rightsized” military budget would free up significant amounts of money to address other societal problems.

So why the reluctance to turn to technology to solve our problems? There are several alternative energy agendas that should be fervently explored and exploited to remove our nation from the grip of imported oil. Unfortunately, fossil fuel (imported, that is) is still relatively inexpensive in comparison to the new and emerging technologies. Therefore, it is easier, or at least it has been in the past, to continue on the same worn path. Another given is that America responds much more decisively and passionately when there is a crisis. It is difficult, if not impossible, for our national leaders to move us in a new direction without a crisis looming on the horizon.

Well, that crisis may again rear its ugly head. The threat of another war in Southwest Asia is always a possibility before we cross the bridge to the 21st Century. Will we be able to muster a fighting force of 500,000 Americans to protect our oil-dependent economy? Or, will we have begun developing, in earnest, alternative and renewable energy sources to wean us from our dependency on fossil fuel?

We must not waste our resources and energies
by adhering to methods and policies that should have become obsolete years ago.

We are at the brink of a new century. It has been talked about by our national leaders, both Republican and Democrat, and it is now time to grasp existing technologies and create new technologies that can enhance our quality of life. Would it not be wonderful to drive through a smog-free southern California? Or to spend our time and energies on solving our problems in our cities?

This can be done if we embrace new and emerging technologies. We must not waste our resources and energies by adhering to methods and policies that should have become obsolete years ago. It is incumbent on all of us to ask our leaders to look for new ways to solve our problems. Is not hydrogen one resource that should be looked at to provide answers to our problems?

[Paul Hirsch is a government relations consultant with more than 25 years of experience. He is President of Madison Government Affairs, with offices in Washington, D.C., and Newport News, Virginia, U.S.A. He can be contacted at +1.202.347.1223 or via eMail at [email protected].]

©1997. All Rights Reserved. A Publication of the National Hydrogen Association.
This material may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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