SACRAMENTO, Calif. — President Bush had an Earth Day message for drivers worried about soaring gasoline prices: The nation must move more quickly toward widespread use of hydrogen-powered cars.
Running vehicles on hydrogen fuel cells would help reduce oil consumption, as the technology does not require gasoline, and lower pollution, as they emit only water. But the technology is far from being a reality in the marketplace — the cells are prohibitively expensive and require a new distribution system to replace today’s gas stations.
Bush is proposing to spend additional federal research dollars to help speed that process — but it still would be many years off.
“I strongly believe hydrogen is the fuel of the future. That’s what we’re talking about,” he said Saturday. “It has the potential — a vast potential to dramatically cut our dependence on foreign oil. Hydrogen is clean, hydrogen is domestically produced and hydrogen is the way of the future.”
The president spoke on a visit to the California Fuel Cell Partnership, a collection of 31 organizations such as car makers, energy providers, government agencies and fuel cell companies that promotes the commercialization of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.
Bush checked out several fuel cell vehicles and a hydrogen fueling station. “It’s important what we’re doing here because we got a real problem when it comes to oil,” he said.
The promise of hydrogen fuel cell technology in vehicles is a favorite of automakers, environmentalists and politicians because it accomplishes two important goals — automobiles that run on fuel cells would not require gasoline and emit only water.
The problem with the technology is that it’s many years away from widespread use. And it would require a new system of distributing hydrogen fuel to replace today’s network of gasoline pumping stations.
With gas prices on the rise just months before crucial fall congressional elections, Bush can do little but express sympathy for families and businesses. The energy plan he wants Congress to pass, which would also boost federal research into batteries for hybrid and electric cars and renewable fuels, does not include any measures that would reduce pump costs in the short term.
The average price of a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline is $2.855, according to AAA’s daily fuel gauge report, and has topped $3 a gallon in parts of the country, including California and Washington, D.C.
“I understand the folks here, as well as in other parts of the country are paying high gas prices,” Bush said. “We’re going to have a tough summer.”
Democrats zero in on gasoline
In a rash of statements, Democrats sought to capitalize on public anxiety about gasoline costs — which is dampening confidence in the rebounding economy.
In the Democratic response to Bush’s weekly radio address, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida warned of “economic havoc” if a terrorist attack sinks a super-tanker or a hurricane shuts down oil refineries in the Gulf Coast. “Whatever the cause, the crisis is coming,” he said.
Nelson said the administration must stop being influenced by the powerful oil industry and start promoting production of synthetic fuel from coal, broader use of alternative sources such as ethanol and a significant increase in the mileage standards for all passenger vehicles.
Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., chairman of House Democrats’ campaign arm, criticized Bush and Congress GOP leadership for subsidies and tax breaks for oil companies. “The Republican Congress cant stop taking oil money and cant stop sending billion dollar giveaways to their friends in the oil industry,” he said.
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