When the region’s top air quality experts recently put together a plan to establish a hydrogen refueling infrastructure along the Central Coast, they were acknowledging what analysts have been saying for some time: hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles are a critical complement to battery electric vehicles if the state is to achieve its climate change goals.

Unfortunately, the state’s allocation of clean transportation funding has severely neglected the development of hydrogen refueling infrastructure particularly in the regions outside the large urban areas. Now, a well-intended proposal by the legislator who represents Santa Barbara and Ventura counties could make the situation worse.

Assemblyman Steve Bennett has introduced a bill that would add more funding directly tailored for the heavy-duty sector — at the expense of building a more robust network of hydrogen fueling stations for cars.

Bennett’s AB 2562 would redirect limited hydrogen infrastructure dollars toward projects that are located at a port, co-located at an existing truck stop, or along designated freight corridors. If that were to happen, the goal of establishing a network of hydrogen refueling stations along the Central Coast would become more distant.

It is becoming increasingly evident that a reliance on battery-electric vehicles alone will not get the state to its goal of phasing out new gas-powered vehicles by 2035. While battery-electric cars are good for some, they are clearly not for everybody.

If California is to achieve its goal of eliminating tailpipe emissions, it must invest in technologies that meet the diverse needs of all drivers — including apartment-dwellers, commuters who drive long distances, rideshare workers, and delivery drivers who can’t afford to sit idle waiting for a battery to recharge.

Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, powered by renewable electricity generated when hydrogen reacts with oxygen, are truly zero-emission vehicles that fill the void left by the limits of battery-electric cars. They have about the same range and can be refueled just as quickly as gas- or diesel-powered vehicles.

Less than 5 percent of the state’s investments in zero-emission vehicle infrastructure are now being directed toward hydrogen. The smartest way forward would be to boost that investment, not restrict where it can be spent.

Ivor John is chair of the ECOFaith Coalition of Santa Barbara County.


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