Hydrogen Fuel Cells & the Future of Clean Energy

On October 8, states around the country celebrated “National Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Day.”  Given that the standard atomic weight of hydrogen is 1.008, the United States House of Representatives, the United States Senate, and several state legislative bodies, on 10/08, passed resolutions in support of this rapidly developing technology.

Fuel cells are playing an increasingly important role as many states, municipalities, and corporations aim to reduce their emissions and increase their use of clean energy technology.

The United States federal government has provided important support to research and development efforts in the form of grants to, and partnerships with, universities and start-ups in dozens of states.

As a public policy issue, the regulation and implementation of a hydrogen fuel cell infrastructure has the potential to move quickly to the forefront in states and municipalities across the nation.

The deployment of fuel cells has varied significantly from state to state according to a recent report ordered by the US Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.

For example, California has seen significant investment in fuel cell infrastructure, with the construction of more than 29 retail hydrogen fuel stations to date, and continued funding until 100 are operational.  These investments have helped lead to 1,500 Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCV’s) being sold or leased in the state between January 2016-2017.

Conversely, in a state like Indiana, there has been relatively little use of fuel cell technology to date, with stationary units providing backup power to 19 AT&T cell towers and undisclosed government facilities.

States continue to lay the groundwork for new rules and regulations to take advantage of the potential promised by fuel cell technology.

On October 11, in recognition of National Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Day, the New Jersey State Assembly Science, Innovation & Technology and the Assembly Commerce & Economic Development Committees held a joint hearing on the future of Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology in New Jersey.

Following the hearing, Commerce & Economic Development Chair Assemblyman Gordon Johnson noted that “hydrogen and fuel cell technology is a nearly untapped alternative energy resource with both environmental and economic benefits for the state of New Jersey… New Jersey needs to be prepared to take full advantage of this technology as we act to reduce pollution and greenhouse emissions.”

Science, Innovation & Technology Chair Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker echoed these sentiments, saying that “it’s now up to us to come up with legislation that makes sense for the people of New Jersey.”

Legislative Update: AZ, CO, NM, & UT

Arizona

Gov. Ducey Names Kyl as McCain Successor

After the passing of Sen. John McCain, Gov. Doug Ducey has appointed former Sen. Jon Kyl to serve out the remainder of the late senator’s six-year term. Ducey commented at the press conference announcing his selection that “now is not the time for newcomers and not the time for on-the-job training.” Further that Kyl is a “beacon of integrity, highly regarded by people on both sides of the aisle and able to work across party lines to get results.”

Kyl, a Republican, has indicated that he is willing to serve until the end of the year, but would not comment on any timeframe afterward. If Kyl steps down at the end of the session, the governor would be required to appoint another replacement.

Court Removes Education Funding Measure from November Ballot

The Arizona Supreme Court struck down and removed Proposition 207 which would have increased income taxes for individuals making more than $150,000 finding that the description of the tax was not clear. Opponents of Prop. 207 claimed that the use of a “percentage” rather than “percentage points” increase was deceptive illustrating that the tax rate would have been increased by 76 and 98 percent increase rather than 3.46 and 4.46 percent increase. The Court found that the language “creates a significant danger of confusion or unfairness.”

Proponents of Prop. 207 claim the measure was the work of thousands of volunteers, which had the backing of the Arizona Education Association, and the state’s teachers union, now emphasize the importance of electing officials that support public education.

The intent of Prop. 207 was to increase education funding for public and charter schools in response to the years of cuts experienced since the recession. The measure could have brought in an additional $690 million to help restore the $1 billion in cuts to education by the legislature.


Colorado

Redistricting Measure on November Ballot

Colorado is taking its political boundary matters to the voters this November. Constitutional amendments Y and Z changes the way the state’s political boundaries are drawn for both the statehouse and Congress. Currently, the controlling political party at the General Assembly has much of the power to draw districts. If approved, those duties go to an independent commission.

The most controversial ballot measure would prohibit oil and gas drilling within 2,500 feet of home and schools. If approved, the proposed setback would all but ban drilling in the state which is one of the state’s largest economic drivers. Both gubernatorial candidates have voiced opposition to the initiative claiming that it goes too far. The oil and gas industry is expected to spend millions of dollars to defeat the measure which is being proposed by environmentalists.


New Mexico

Groundbreaking Lawsuit Finds New Mexico Education System Unconstitutional

First Judicial District Judge Sarah Singleton has ruled in the Yazzie v. New Mexico class action lawsuit filed in March 2014 that the state’s public education system is a “dismal failure” and violates students’ constitutional rights to a sufficient education. Plaintiffs argued that funds are distributed in arbitrary and inequitable ways that leave at-risk students without a basic education to go to college or pursue a career.

Lead Plaintiff Wilhelmina Yazzie provided examples of the inadequate funding in the Gallup-McKinley County Schools which included teachers requesting parents to donate old socks to be used to clean dry-erase boards, and an insufficient supply of textbooks for students. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that the school district did not respond to Yazzie’s complaints for years. “All we’ve heard is ‘Sorry we can’t do that, or sorry we don’t have that, or sorry we can’t give that to your children. But it’s not a good enough excuse,” Yazzie said.

Judge Singleton ruled that the state is responsible for assuring that students receive an adequate education.


Utah

Ballot Measures Include Medical Marijuana Initiative

Utah is another state where voters will be deciding the future of the medicinal use of marijuana on the November ballot. If approved, Proposition 2 the Utah Medical Cannabis Act will allow patients, on the recommendation of a physician, obtain a medical marijuana card and to buy cannabis products from private run dispensaries sanctioned by the state. A recent poll in June indicates that 66% of voters are in favor of approving the Utah Medical Cannabis Act.

Proposition 3 asks voters to fully expand Medicaid to provide health-care coverage to 150,000 lower income Utahns. The state currently has a Medicaid waiver before the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that partially expands Medicaid while imposing work requirements on recipients. If approved, Prop. 3 will bypass the waiver process to fully expand Medicaid under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. The initiative proposes to combine $90 in state funding through a 0.15% sales tax increase of approximately $800 million in federal Medicaid funding.

Proposition 4 will create an independent, unelected redistricting commission to recommend electoral maps which then must be approved or discarded by the Legislature without amendment. Better Boundaries, the proponent of Prop. 4, said the initiative is meant to fix a broken redistricting process. “There’s an inherent conflict of interest when legislators draw their own electoral boundaries, as they have the power to choose their voters instead of voters choosing their representatives.” Opponents of the initiative claim the initiative is unconstitutional by interfering in the Legislature’s redistricting process.

Legislative Update: AZ, CO, NM, & UT

Arizona

McCain passes the torch of International Republican Institute

Sen. John McCain has resigned as the Chairman of the International Republican Institute, a position he has held since 1993. In his stead, Alaskan Senator Dan Sullivan will serve as McCain’s replacement. McCain intends to continue as a board member of the International Republican Institute.

The non-profit International Republican Institute works to support and strengthen “democracy in places where it is absent.”

In a letter to the board, McCain said that “Serving as Chairman has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life.”


Colorado

Opposing Protests Make Effort to Listen to Other Side

A recent protest brought opposing positions on gun rights to the state capitol where the two groups were ready to voice their point of view. On one side of the street was a gathering of people expressing their support of the Second Amendment. The other side of the street were proponents of gun control to make sure people are safe from mass shootings.

Although the viewpoints of these groups differ, people tried to have civil discussions about the different points of view. The state capitol site was not chosen by coincidence, but the opposing groups were hoping to set an example for the people who work inside the state capitol building. Participants said that “change cannot happen on one side of the aisle.” And that legislators must “make sure that when you are making law that they represent all of the people of your state, all of the people of your area.”


New Mexico

Local Election Act Voter Impact

A substantial rewrite of New Mexico’s election law is beginning to have its impacts felt by voters, school board and town councils. The Act requires most nonpartisan local elections to be combined into one larger election on one ballot. Backers hope this will increase the number of voters who participate. Additionally, the Act requires that governments that conduct special elections, such as for bonds and tax proposals, all be conducted by mail.

There are three major implications of how the Local Election Act changes the way people vote:

  1. Fewer elections. Many school boards, town councils, and water conservation district boards all have varying election dates. The new Act will combine all these various elections onto one ballot to take place on regularly scheduled “Election Day.” One downside will be longer ballots, and that cities were not included in the Act, thus, allowing them to continue to conduct elections on different dates.
  2. Ballots will be sent in the mail. The Act specifies that all special elections will be conducted entirely by mail. A voter will receive a ballot in the mail, make their selection, and return it in the mail. Postage will already be covered. Proponents hope this will increase voter participation. Voter fraud is a heightened concern of the mail ballot objectors.
  3. Cities could adopt ranked-choice voting. Some cities have already implemented a ranked-choice system of voting – voters rate multiple candidates rather than just choosing one.

Utah

Mining Claims Questioned as Litigation Continues

Senate Democrats are demanding that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke explain how a Canadian mining company secured mining claims inside the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument when litigation is still ongoing. The litigation challenges President Trump’s authority to decrease the size of the National Monument. The lawsuits filed by environmental and wildlife groups contend that President Trump cannot reduce the monuments under a 112-year-old law.

Senator Tom Udall and 22 fellow Democrats believe President Trump’s proclamation is invalid and that any mining claims with the National monument are “illegal.”  Glacier Lake Resources, based in Canada, purchased mining rights within an area previous protected by the national monument status. Company president, Say Dhillon said in a statement that “surface exploration work will start this summer on the Colt Mesa property and drill permitting will be initiated shortly.

The Bureau of Land Management has not yet approved any new mining in the area.