Environmental organizations ask for transparency in ARCH 2 hydrogen hub negotiations

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SALEM, Ohio — Over 50 environmental organizations signed a letter on May 28, addressed to the U.S. Department of Energy, asking the agency to suspend negotiations on Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub, known as ARCH 2, until stakeholders release more information on the project.

The letter, sent by the Ohio River Valley Institute, discusses a lack of transparency as a major concern. The DOE has offered “scant public information about the Appalachian hydrogen hub and its untold impacts … and no substantive opportunity to shape this proposal while negotiations continue behind closed doors,” the letter states.

The DOE announced $7 billion in funding for several hydrogen hub projects last October, including the ARCH 2 hydrogen hub that will span Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky.

“There are many open questions about even the most basic details regarding the hub,” said Jill Hunkler, executive director of Ohio Valley Allies.

Meanwhile, one of Pennsylvania’s U.S. senators said business and labor leaders are excited about the project and that communities are “enthusiastically preparing for the new jobs and economic growth” that will come with ARCH 2.

What is ARCH 2?

The ARCH 2 hydrogen hub is part of a larger network of proposed hydrogen hub projects, seven in total, across the United States that will receive funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. ARCH 2 is anticipated to receive up to $925 million.

The hydrogen hubs are part of the Biden administration’s plans for a transition to clean energy and being are touted as a way to make natural gas production cleaner by producing hydrogen and injecting carbon emissions into the ground.

ARCH 2 will be centrally located in West Virginia but will span parts of eastern Kentucky, Ohio and western Pennsylvania. It will consist of infrastructure like hydrogen pipelines, multiple hydrogen fueling stations and CO2 storage infrastructure (CCS) across the four states.

Since the DOE announced funding for the project last October, little information regarding the specifics of the ARCH 2 hydrogen hub has been released.

What was in the letter?

When the ARCH 2 project was announced last fall, the DOE emphasized the importance of ‘meaningful community engagement’ during the negotiations. Shalanda Baker, the DOE’s director of the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity, went as far as to say the project would fail without engaging “communities authentically and meaningfully.”

However, the letter states the DOE has tried and failed to engage the public. So far, the DOE has held two listening sessions for community members in the tri-state
area to comment on the ARCH 2 project.

The first listening session was held on March 27. A second listening session took place on May 7 after an overabundance of speakers wanted to speak at the first session.

Both sessions included comments from residents and environmental organizations who expressed concerns regarding environmental impacts. They also discussed the one-sided format of the listening sessions, disappointed that the DOE did not answer or provide residents with any information on ARCH 2 after their comments.

“Impacted communities deserve to be informed and have their voices included in the negotiation phase. How can we take this process seriously when the DOE has yet to answer the questions presented to them by concerned citizens in our region,” Hunkler said.

In the letter, Tom Torres, hydrogen campaign coordinator for the Ohio River Valley Institue, asks the DOE to act on a number of things, some of which include disclosing all information regarding site locations, necessary infrastructure and operations, working with community and environmental justice stakeholders to design an effective engagement structure and to suspend all negotiations until the first two requests are met.

Since the DOE announced funding for ARCH 2, four preliminary maps with non-specified project locations of the hub have been released as well as a brief description of the necessary infrastructure and what companies would be involved in this construction.

The letter was addressed to Suzanne Baker and Angelique Besnard, both stakeholder engagement specialists at the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations in the DOE. It was signed by 54 grassroots environmental organizations, including Buckeye Environmental Network, Clean Air Council, PennFuture, Earthworks, the Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Community, Ohio Valley Allies and more.

In a statement sent to Farm and Dairy, ARCH 2 said, “We appreciate the Ohio River Valley Institute’s concerns and are dedicated to addressing them through ongoing engagement, transparency and proactive information sharing.”

An ARCH 2 spokesman said the majority of information requested in the letter is part of the preliminary planning and analysis process which will commence in phase one of the ARCH 2 hub. According to the ARCH 2 website, phase one is expected to begin in the spring/summer of 2024.

ARCH 2 added it is currently developing an extensive strategy for community outreach.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey writes a letter.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) wrote to U.S. President Joe Biden on May 24 asking him to make changes to the 45V Clean Hydrogen Production tax credit, a significant part of the ARCH2 funding deal.

The 45V Clean Hydrogen Production tax credit was created to incentivize companies to adopt clean energy. It provides money-saving credits to hydrogen producers that decrease their carbon emissions.

In the letter, Casey asks Biden to consider allowing those who produce nuclear energy and coal mine methane for hydrogen to qualify for the credit. He also recommends incentivizing cleaner sources of natural gas by giving additional credits to low-carbon intensive natural gas.

Casey added that Pennsylvanians, specifically labor unions, are concerned the current tax credit will result in “lost” clean energy opportunities.

“I urge your administration to change course from its initial approach to the hydrogen tax credit, which has confused and dismayed the clean energy industry upon which the success of the U.S. hydrogen economy depends,” Casey said in the letter. “Leaders of business and labor, especially in southwestern Pennsylvania, are concerned that this once-in-a-generation opportunity will be lost.”

(Liz Partsch can be reached at epartsch@farmanddairy.com or 330-337-3419.)

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