Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - Two Senate Democrats said Thursday that - while they support President Bush's initiative to develop hydrogen fuel cell technology - the White House is spending too little money over too long a period of time.
"Hydrogen fuel cells represent one of the most encouraging, innovative technologies of our era," Bush told an audience at the National Building Museum in Washington.
"And if you're interested in our environment, and if you're interested in doing what's right for the American people, if you're tired of the same old endless struggles that seem to produce nothing but noise and high bills," Bush continued, "let us promote hydrogen fuel cells as a way to advance into the 21st century."
The president projected that, if the U.S. can develop hydrogen power to its full potential, the country's demand for oil could be reduced by more than 11 million barrels per day by the year 2040. He's asking Congress for $1.2 billion dollars - including $720 million in new spending - to take hydrogen fuel cell technology "from the laboratory to the showroom" over the next five years.
Senate Democrats, including Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), offered guarded praise for the concept.
"I happen to think that's a piece of very welcome news for our country. I credit the president for that suggestion," Dorgan said. "Putting his administration in support of a hydrogen-based economy and fuel cells is a very important signal and a very important step."
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) agreed.
"This is the most anti-environment administration that I have any memory of... They have such a long way to go to make up for the damage they are doing," Clinton charged. "What's exciting about this is that we have a Republican president who is putting this forward as one of his principal domestic ideas."
But both Democrats believe the Bush plan doesn't go far enough and takes too long to arrive. They are proposing $6.5 billion in entirely new spending on hydrogen fuel cell research and development over the next 10 years.
"We are so enthusiastic about this idea that we want it on a faster track so that we can see the results of the research and development sooner than we would, otherwise, under the president's more modest proposal," Clinton said. "We think the president's timelines are both too modest and underestimating what we can do if we have the kind of Apollo-like program that Byron's legislation proposes."
The Dorgan-Clinton bill would include $2.3 billion for research and development, $2 billion for infrastructure and $700 million in tax incentives to motorists who purchase hydrogen-powered vehicles.
The Bush administration is wrong, Dorgan charged, to reduce spending for research into other renewable energy sources in order to fund the hydrogen fuel studies.
"This should not and cannot come out of renewable fuels," he demanded. "The president's budget recommends a cut in solar, a cut in wind energy, a cut in geothermal. That's not what we should do."
Dorgan and Clinton say there is a much better and easier way to pay for their proposal.
"What we're talking about would be one percent of the president's most recently proposed tax cut," Dorgan said. "Clearly we can afford this. Clearly we should do it, and it ought to be a priority."
Administration officials said Thursday afternoon that the current research infrastructure could be fully funded with the $1.2 billion in the Bush proposal and that Congress needs to spend only enough money to determine whether or not hydrogen fuel cells can be developed into a cost-effective energy source before allocating money for infrastructure and delivery systems.
"The new effort that we're undertaking with Congress' help is to develop a system for producing and delivering hydrogen fuel so that when the cars are ready, people can fill them up at their convenience," Bush said. "It's a big project because we'll be changing years of habit, years of infrastructure must be replaced by a modern way. But we'll achieve this.
The president said it makes sense from an economic, environmental and national security perspective to pursue the technology in a fiscally responsible manner.
"It's going to happen," he concluded. "And I look forward to working with Congress to start the process."
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