Excerpts from FreedomCAR Congressional Hearings
COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND COMMERCE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
JUNE 6, 2002
The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 9:30 a.m., in room 2123, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. James C. Greenwood (chairman) presiding.
Members present: Representatives Greenwood, Stearns, Gillmor, Bass, Fletcher, Deutsch, and Dingell (ex officio).
Staff present: Peter Spencer, majority professional staff member; Joe Greenman, legislative assistant; Yong Choe, legislative clerk; Jonathan J. Cordone, minority counsel; and Bruce Gwinn, minority professional staff member.
Mr. GREENWOOD. Good morning. The meeting will come to order. Today we’ll be examining a far-reaching and quite bold automotive research initiative that has been launched by the Department of Energy and the big three automakers.
The FreedomCAR program, a public-private research and development initiative, presents a vision of a day when automobiles will not be only pollution free, but no longer dependent on petroleum. This is a bold vision indeed.
The focus of this initiative is for the long term, of course, which may have merit for setting priorities, but it also raises some basic issues I hope we can explore in depth today. Some of these issues involve assuring that we will be able to assess, as the program moves forward, whether taxpayer money is well spent. Some issues also involve placing this program in the broader context of our energy policy, an important area of the full committee’s jurisdiction, and fully appreciating the challenges the program will face.
Some of you may remember the large ad campaign a couple of months ago for the new model lineup from Nissan’s Infiniti division. The flashy ads displayed futuristic vehicles, the kind we used to read about in Popular Science, with the catchy question, “where are the cars we were promised?” We know now those so-called future cars promised to be right around the corner were never delivered. The ads struck me, because they pointed to something I think can affect our thinking about future technology. We can get carried away with our imagination, only to be disappointed by reality. This is not to say that we shouldn’t have bold visions that go beyond what we are presently capable of achieving. Innovation would wither away otherwise. But it should serve to remind us as we go forward with spending from limited resources to seek policy goals that are important for our Nation that we must maintain some perspective and be willing to say no when a vision goes off track.
The two panels from which we will hear this morning should help us make sure that we stay on track with this program so that we can be confident it is a beneficial pursuit for our Nation’s energy policy goals. The panelists should help us check whether we will be able to assess as time goes on that the program fits with policy goals, that it will make a positive impact on our efforts to reduce our oil dependence and cut pollution, or whether adjustments are necessary.
At the outset, there are some key questions we need to consider about the respective roles in the program of the Department of Energy and the U.S. Council for Automotive Research, which represents the auto makers.
For example, there are some threshold questions about the structure of the program. What is the role of industry in this partnership? How is the money spent? Where does it go? There are questions about the balance of the technology portfolio currently being pursued by FreedomCAR. Has the shift in focus to a fuel cell, hydrogen future diminished the pressure to get the intermediate gains in automobile efficiency we’ve already been researching and spending more than a billion dollars on these past 8 years?
As our General Accounting Office witness will point out in his testimony, reviews of past R&D efforts by the Federal Government reveal that, surprise, surprise, some of these efforts have come up short due to lack of focus, absence of measurable goals and benchmarks, or failure to consider actual marketplace potential of the research. Some efforts have produced positive results, so we have some experience here that offers up lessons we should consider as we examine FreedomCAR.
It is essential that we examine this program in the context of our broader energy policy. We must consider how the pieces, the technology portfolio, the benchmarks and goals fit together to make an actual difference in how we use energy and in what we emit into the air. When all is said and spent, this initiative should enable the production of something that consumers and businesses will want to purchase and use. Is FreedomCAR structured to help launch products and innovation into the marketplace?
Is the strategy contemplated by the Department of Energy sufficient to prevent advances from gathering dust on a lab shelf? Panelists today will help us put FreedomCAR’s goals and its connection to a hydrogen future in proper perspective. I look forward to discussion about the requirements for infrastructure, the demands on fuel supply, the cost barriers and challenges. I look forward to learning about what Congress may have to consider to help address these issues. I’m not sure that all that will be involved or how long this vision will take to be realized has been fully appreciated by the public.
Moreover, I’m not sure the questions are settled about the current course of FreedomCAR. We will hear today about other aspects of research and development concerning hydrogen infrastructure. For example, that might need more immediate attention if the hydrogen vision is to overcome the chicken-and-egg problem. Unlike conventionally fueled vehicles, after all, you can’t really convince people to leap to fuel cell cars unless they can drive them far and wide without worry about filling up.
Finally, as we step back to view the program in a broad context, we should also not lose sight of its potential for positive side effects. There is something to be said about long-range focus. Properly sighted, it can generate research outcomes we cannot even contemplate as it fosters innovation.
So I’d like to kick off this hearing on that upbeat note, but without forgetting that we should not let our imaginations get too far ahead of us when we’re spending the taxpayers’ money.
[The prepared statement of Hon. James C. Greenwood follows:]
[Same as above]
Mr. GREENWOOD. The Chair recognizes the ranking member, Mr. Deutsch.
Mr. DEUTSCH. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Again, I appreciate this hearing. I don’t think that there is a more important domestic policy issue than what this program is about. The potential in terms of fuel cells would have a dramatic effect on our national security, on our macro economy, and so it clearly is a very, very high priority in terms of the goals of this country, and I look forward to the testimony and working with the committee and the committee staff in trying to make this program as successful as possible. Thank you.
Mr. GREENWOOD. The Chair thanks the gentleman and recognizes the gentleman—the other gentleman from Florida—Mr. Stearns, for an opening statement.
Mr. STEARNS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I thank you for having this hearing. Over the past year and a half, much of the energy policy debate has centered around CAFE standards. Obviously as summer approaches, more Americans are taking more vacations. The demand and subsequently the price of gasoline is increasing. Add to that the tensions in the Middle East, and we are again looking at possibly a higher set of gasoline prices this summer.
As America searches for ways to become more self-sufficient in energy consumption, we’re also looking for ways to reduce consumption. So I believe today’s hearing shed light on the problem talking about perhaps not a new approach, but an improvement over an older approach to fuel efficiency. As many of you know, nearly 9 years ago, President Clinton announced a new government and industry program called the Partnership for New Generation of Vehicles. The goal was to eventually produce an environmentally friendly vehicle that would achieve greater fuel economy without sacrificing performance, affordability and safety. These are the same influential factors within the CAFE standards debate. As many are concerned that arbitrarily raising CAFE standards would hurt these same areas.
The new program brought together the resources and expertise of both the private sector and the Federal Government. The research centered around reducing U.S. oil consumption by developing new technologies, such as hybrid electric fuel cells and lightweight materials. At the beginning of this year, the Bush administration decided to expand the research and development of fuel cells within a new initiative called FreedomCAR. This expands upon the old partnership initiative, while narrowing the focus. Fuel cells offer the most promising opportunity, especially in terms of domestic production. In addition, the new initiative focuses on expanding the use of new technologies across a wider spectrum of car manufacturing design so as to make such technologies more marketable.
And this makes business sense. In light of President Bush’s energy policy and the desire for all of us to wean ourselves off the nearly 60 percent reliance on foreign fuel imports, the FreedomCAR initiative is a proper step in focusing these research efforts to a more and what we hope to be achievable goal.
As a member representing a State that imports nearly 100 percent of its fuel needs in Florida, I support common sense approaches to fuel efficiency and the increased use of new technologies. So, again, Mr. Chairman, I thank you for this hearing. Look forward to our witnesses.
Mr. GREENWOOD. The Chair thanks the gentleman.
[Additional statements submitted for the record follow:]
TESTIMONY OF JIM WELLS, DIRECTOR, NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT, U.S. GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE; HON. DAVID K. GARMAN, ASSISTANT SECRETARY, ENERGY EFFICIENCY AND RENEWABLE ENERGY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY; AND ROBERT N. CULVER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, UNITED STATES COUNCIL FOR AUTOMOTIVE RESEARCH
PREPARED STATEMENT OF DAVID K. GARMAN, ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR ENERGY EFFICIENCY AND RENEWABLE ENERGY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY
TESTIMONY OF VERNON P. ROAN, PROFESSOR OF MECHANICAL ENGINEERING, DIRECTOR, FUEL CELL LABORATORY, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, ON BEHALF OF THE PNGV PEER REVIEW COMMITTEE, NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL; WILLIAM T. MILLER, PRESIDENT, UTC FUEL CELLS, SOUTH WINDSOR, CONNECTICUT; AND DONALD L. PAUL, VICE PRESIDENT AND CHIEF TECHNOLOGY OFFICER, CHEVRONTEXACO
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