Pennsylvania Legacies #213: Engaging Communities on Hydrogen

As a clean energy technology, hydrogen holds both promise and peril — especially in terms of local impacts and public attitudes. With DoE-funded regional hydrogen hubs coming to Pennsylvania, how can we ensure community voices are heard and their needs are met? Researchers from the Energy Futures Initiative recently took the public’s temperature and found people across the country broadly willing to engage on the subject. On this episode, we explore the social dimension of hydrogen hubs via a panel discussion at last month’s gathering of the Southwest Pennsylvania Decarbonization Forum co-hosted by PEC.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs (H2Hubs) demonstration program will lead to the development of seven hubs across the country. Pennsylvania is the only state selected to host projects connected with two such hubs. Clean hydrogen production could create as many as 49,000 direct jobs, including in former coal communities, and eliminate millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from hard-to-decarbonize sectors like heavy industry. But it also poses significant challenges, including uncertainty around what projects will mean for communities in terms of economic opportunity, environmental justice, public health and safety, and sustainability.

During a “fireside chat” session at a recent convening of the Southwest Pennsylvania Decarbonization Forum co-organized by PEC, experts discussed how hydrogen project developers can communicate and engage effectively with local stakeholders.

Madeline Schomburg, Director of Research at the Energy Futures Initiative, a policy think tank founded by former DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz, is the author of a new report, “Building Stronger Community Engagement in Hydrogen Hubs,” that surveyed public perception on hydrogen development.

What surprised Schomburg was the degree of support for hydrogen energy. Of the nearly 5,000 survey respondents, 78% said that they supported the use of hydrogen as a tool to help address climate change. Many of those who voiced skepticism also suggested that more information could change their opinion.

Another surprise was that views on hydrogen development did not vary much according to where people lived. Responses came from every state that submitted an H2Hub proposal, with a wide distribution of urban and rural areas.

“We expected to find more regional variation in a lot of different ways, and we just didn’t find that,” Schomburg said. “We found a lot more consistency, which is, at least in my mind, sort of a benefit from thinking about how to develop best practices.”

Community engagement is a requirement of the H2Hub program. Each project must include a Community Benefits Plan (CBP), but the survey shows that employing additional methods — for example, involving trusted community representatives and requiring binding agreements between stakeholders and developers — can garner greater support for the projects.

Another expert panelist, BlueGreen Alliance founder and EFI Distinguished Associate David Foster, has seen firsthand the benefits of such approaches. The biggest hurdle to any kind of new development, not just hydrogen, he said, is the perception of harm.

“There’s nothing tougher than to try to engage with a community that believes it’s going to be hurt as a result of change that’s taking place around them,” Foster said.

He cited the case of the Stillwater Mine in Montana, North America’s only platinum mine. Platinum, Foster explained, is an essential mineral for a clean energy economy. However, the mine also lay near beloved natural areas.

“It’s a stone’s throw from Yellowstone National Park, literally 25 miles from the northern border in Wyoming,” he said.

For that reason, the potential for conflict and years of litigation was high.

Instead, the various stakeholders, including mine owners, local community groups, and the Northern Plains Council conservation group, entered into a Good Neighbor Agreement, a legally binding contract like the kind recommended in Schomburg’s report. It required things like transparency over any future mine expansion and millions of dollars’ worth of independent water quality monitoring.  

While EFI’s survey showed that support for hydrogen jumped to 86% if binding agreements are used, researchers also found that, in many cases, project developers must be compelled to use them.

The next phase of EFI’s research is a series of case studies in analogous sectors around the country where binding agreements have been utilized, which will inform a set of best practices for pursuing them.

The survey sought to elevate voices that historically have gone underrepresented. Respondents came from either a recognized tribe; a labor union, worker organization, or workforce development organization; a disadvantaged community based on the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool map; or an organization representing overburdened, underrepresented, or disadvantaged communities.

The report recommends collaboration that respects the diversity within those communities and addresses the differing familiarity gaps among community types.

An original goal of the research, Schomburg explained, was to center community voices, but budget and time constraints necessitated the more limited survey approach. Follow-up surveys, sent only to environmental justice organizations, offer more open-ended responses on hydrogen development.  Since publishing the report, EFI also has received inquiries from prospective funders who want to support these organizations but don’t necessarily know how to find or contact them.

“We’re trying to really help be a bridge to get those communities connected to funders with deep pockets who can actually provide what they’re saying they need in order to engage more effectively,” Schomburg said. “And then also have them guide our research more so that our research is responsive to what they’re saying they want to know more about.”

Episode Links

Josh Raulerson: (00:01)
It is Friday, April 19th, 2024. I’m Josh Raulerson, and for the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, this is the Pennsylvania Legacies podcast. Ready or not, hydrogen is coming. Pennsylvania is the only state selected by the U.S. Department of Energy to host not one, but two regional hydrogen hubs, which will eventually produce clean-burning hydrogen fuel and feedstock for critical industries that are currently dependent on fossil fuels. As we discussed at length on our February 9th episode on this subject, hydrogen holds promise for those hard-to-decarbonize sectors of the economy. But at the same time, it entails major hurdles that the Commonwealth will need to clear and dangers we’ll have to avoid in order to realize all that potential. It’s a complicated prospect, and of course, complexity sometimes lends itself to controversy, especially when you consider the federal government’s current emphasis on equity and environmental justice. When it comes to investing in energy infrastructure, there’s an atmosphere of well warranted caution around the rollout of clean hydrogen projects locally. 

At the same time, recent research from the Energy Futures Initiative (EFI), a policy think tank, founded by former DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz suggests a surprising degree of public willingness to engage with the idea of hydrogen hubs. That is, if that conversation is approached in the right way. EFI’s report was the focus of a discussion held recently in Pittsburgh through the ongoing Southwest Pennsylvania Decarbonization Forum, of which PEC is a co-organizer. On this podcast episode, we’ll be bringing you the audio from that session held in March. It was organized as a lunchtime fireside chat and hosted by Valerie Karplus of the Scott Institute for Energy Innovation at Carnegie Mellon University. The panelists are EFI’s Madeline Schomburg and David Foster of EFI and the Blue-Green Alliance. He appeared remotely via Zoom. Here’s their conversation. 

Valerie Karplus: (02:03)
Thank you all for coming, for being so engaged this morning. We’re going to be shifting gears and, and keeping with our variety of formats today. And by the way, I, the professor in me just has to encourage you to come towards the front. If you want to sit closer to the front of the room, please don’t hesitate. We don’t bite. And we’re really excited to, to have all of you as part of this conversation. This is a, our fireside chat, carbon neutral as you can see, especially since Dave is stuck in Minnesota due to the snow. So we’re really pleased that Dave Foster is still able to join us for this. So, I think we have for you today a real treat. We’re going to be engaging in a, in a conversation about what we are learning from communities that may be impacted by hydrogen hub development around the United States. 

And we’re really, we’re going to try to put this topic in context and work from our current understanding of how these different hubs and projects within them are evolving in different parts of the, of the United States. As all of you, I think by now know, the winners of the regional great Clean Hydrogen Hubs program or HUbprogram, were announced in October of last year. So that provides up to $7 billion to establish the regional clean hydrogen hubs. And this is part of a broader $8 billion regional or hydrogen hub program funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. I think that this is a, you know, at the, the beginning of, of a much broader effort to be thinking and engaging on the role of, of hydrogen and clean energy carriers in the national clean energy transition. 

So I’m really excited today to introduce our two guests. So Dave Foster, just very briefly, you have his bio in front of you, but he’s the founder of the Blue-Green Alliance and a distinguished associate at the Energy Futures Initiative Foundation. He has a lot of experience thinking about, collaborating with communities on clean energy projects and decarbonization, efforts beyond just the, the Hydrogen Hubs program. Obviously served with Secretary, former Secretary Ernie Monice in the Department of Energy during the Obama Administration. And Madeline Schomburg is the director of research from the EFI Foundation and also the lead on ongoing study focused on community attitudes and voices in the Clean Hydrogen Hub development. So I’m going to pose questions to each of them, but as we go through this, please be thinking about the questions that you all want to ask. We’re going to, as soon as we start to see hands, we will shift into engagement mode. So be ready for that.

I’m going to start off with a question for Madeline. So you recently led the development of the, of the fact book for hydrogen hub stakeholders, which reports the results of a survey of nearly 5,000 respondents from a whole range of disadvantaged tribal labor, environmental justice communities on attitudes towards the hydrogen hubs and community engagement. Can you talk a little bit more about the history and some of the motivation for this work? 

Madeline Schomburg: (05:29)
Yeah. So first of all, for those who are not familiar with the EFI Foundation, we are a small think tank based in D.C., founded by former Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz. So despite being small and relatively young, we get a lot of traction. And because of that, we’ve been pretty heavily involved in the hydrogen space for the last couple of years. And so throughout the course of our previous hydrogen work, one of the things that became apparent was that there was a real need and a hunger for more information on the community side of the hydrogen equation, particularly because it is a relatively new space and one that we’re still exploring. And so people wanted to know, can we draw some of what we’ve already learned about community engagement into hydrogen, or do we need to kind of start from scratch or can we build on what’s already been done? And so that was the genesis of this project, which took many shapes as anybody who’s an academic will know, research takes many shapes over the course of its life. But we found our way to this survey that we think is, is a helpful tool for thinking about communities in this space. 

Valerie Karplus (06:33)
Excellent. And, I guess, I wanted to bring Dave in on this as well, just, you know, thinking about the extensive experience you’ve had working on planning for a clean energy transition and working on engagement from many different angles. Can you talk a little bit about what this study represents just in terms of the overall arc and, and, you know, past several decades in thinking about how we can do better in engaging communities and workers and planning for the clean energy transition? 

Dave Foster (07:03)
Well, thank you very much, Valerie, for finding a way that I could continue to participate in this opportunity today. I, you know, have great affection for Pittsburgh, so it’s not just snow that I’m mad at, I’m mad because I couldn’t come to Pittsburgh and see a community that I’ve been deeply involved with during all my time with the United Steel Workers Union and subsequently with the Blue-Green Alliance, and a variety of other policy related issues. When I think about the question you answered, really the first thing that comes to my mind is reiterating the importance that for the energy transition to be successful, we really need to get a large majority of Americans on our side. And so when you’re talking about something that involves economic potential disruption, I always think first and foremost about how we’re going to communicate what it is that we think is going to happen and specific communities as a result of the energy transition. And then trying to focus in on how that change can benefit the self-interest, particularly of working class people in communities because there’s nothing tougher than to try to engage with a community that believes it’s going to be hurt as a result of change that’s taking place around them. So that I think is one of the most important things to always be aware of.

Now, I look back, and just to quickly cite one circumstance I think transition is always easier to manage during economic boom periods and harder to manage in economic downturns, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t benefits during each of those kinds of periods. And so I think back to the years when I was working on putting the Blue-Green Alliance together for those that don’t know, a national alliance of major labor unions and major environmental organizations such as NRDC, the Sierra Club, and a number of others. 

Dave Foster: (09:17)
And when we kicked off the Blue-Green Alliance and held our first Good Jobs Green Jobs conference, which was in Pittsburgh in the spring of 2008, we were on the, the cusp of the Great Recession. And consequently, there was a great deal of anxiety about were we headed into the next great recession, and was it going to be global and far worse than what took place in the 1930s. And yet there were enormously exciting and important stories to tell. So we held this conference in Pittsburgh, not knowing if anyone would show up, and over 1,500 people showed up standing room only in what was then the Hilton Hotel. And it was all about the excitement that jobs during an economic downturn and the benefits that that could provide people. On the other hand, there was also a great deal of anxiety within those communities and workplaces where people felt the most threatened by this, such as in coal-fired power plants, for instance, who thought that long-term stable jobs were on the risk of being eliminated during a time of great economic uncertainty. So that’s the kind of context that I think it’s important for us all to keep in our minds all the time because no matter whether there’s an upside or a downside, we need to focus on both the benefits and risks and address both of them. 

Valerie Karplus: (10:49)
Great. Yes. And if we could get 1,500 people in this room to talk about those issues today, we would consider ourselves very successful. So hopefully we’re, we’re on that trajectory. We’re growing for sure. And Madeline, as we shift back to the, just the, the hydrogen hubs in particular,, what were some of the major findings from the study in terms of what people wanted? Was it, you know, as you know, Dave pointed to the jobs, is it you know, thinking about you, they want to on the risks on the benefits side. Give us a, just a sense of the takeaways and what, if anything, surprised you? 

Madeline Schomburg: (11:28)
All of it surprised us, actually. So the first thing that we found that was actually pretty surprising was a high degree of support overall for hydrogen. We had expected a lot more disagreement on that point, and we found that 78% of respondents said that they supported the use of hydrogen as a tool to help address climate change. So that was already a pretty surprising takeaway. Within that, then we asked people about the various risks and benefits and how they thought about them. And again, we just saw a lot more sort of positivity than we had anticipated. So a lot more belief that hydrogen could help create jobs and a lot less focus on the potential for, say, explosions and other safety hazards. And even fewer people who thought that hydrogen was going to cause local air pollution, which is another narrative that we’ve heard out there particularly from a lot of environmental justice communities. 

So that was, I think, one big thing. And then on the engagement side, we asked people about the engagement methods that were included in the Department of Energy’s guidance on how to do a community benefits plan. And then we added our own that were not included in that guidebook to try to understand whether the DOE was capturing all of the methods that people really wanted to utilize or not. And we found perhaps not surprisingly, that there was a pretty healthy mix of things that they wanted that were not included in that guidebook. And so the things that rose to the top, the top three were, I guess a, a sort of surprising blend of citizen panels, which we defined as a representative group of people who are selected from a community to participate in an advisory capacity. Public hearings, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, just an open forum for people to hear what’s happening and kind of voice their concerns. 

Madeline Schomburg: (13:15)
And then document co-creation, which is working together to form any type of binding agreement. So it could be a community benefits agreement, could also be a project labor agreement, good neighbor agreement, et cetera, et cetera. And so, you know, truthfully, we haven’t really finished unpacking why those three rose to the top. We were particularly surprised by citizen panels, which, you know, it seems to us like it requires a pretty high degree of knowledge to be able to participate effectively. And so we were surprised to see that at the top. We were also surprised to then see public hearings at the top, which have been criticized a lot from environmental justice groups as being a little bit transactional and like a one-way information sharing less than a sort of sustained two-way dialogue. And so we were surprised to see that at the top of the list. So we don’t have answers on why those are there, but that’s what we’ve found from that survey. 

Valerie Karplus: (14:07)
That observation on the, on the panels, the citizens panels in particular is really interesting. And I was just curious, just to show quick show of hands in the room, how many of you have ever been involved in a, a citizen’s panel around a energy or a large industrial project organizing one? I see, I see one hand maybe. Okay, great. Two, three, good. Okay. Yeah, and certainly, you know, what about community benefits plans? Just to get a show of hands, how many have been involved in writing community benefits plans? Okay, so, so few more, five or six hands. So, and certainly I think it’s, yeah, it’s something, it’s, it’s interesting to kind of, to hear how people are sort of thinking about that those, that, yeah, in particular, that the citizens panels rose to the top. One other thing that —

Madeline Schomburg (15:02)
Sorry to cut you off. One thing to note, because since you asked that question. We had about 75% of our respondents said that they had at least some familiarity with community benefits plans.

Valerie Karplus: (15:15)


Madeline Schomburg: (15:16)

That was our reaction. I mean, just looking around this room of people who are experts and the relatively small number of people who have been involved in one, I don’t know how many of you had heard of them before 2023, but we were just shocked that that many people claim to have any familiarity with them at all. And then that familiarity was also correlated with sort of confidence in them that if you followed the CBP steps and methods that you were actually going to produce benefits for the community. And so this piece about knowing something about it is really critical for making sure that they are actually effective in producing those benefits. So it’s interesting, just looking around the room, I’m curious, you know, how reflective our surveys or how, how those people felt like they had familiarity with.

Valerie Karplus: (15:59)
Exactly. I mean, maybe it, it could be the way they answered the question, or it could be really, I mean, you know, if they’re coming from communities that have, have interacted closely with some projects in the past then, or, or been impacted by them, having those, those, or even understanding or knowing about those plans could be important. It’s a a great point, I think, to, to bring Dave in on this issue. The findings that Madeline highlighted, are those, do you think broadly applicable or do you see those same themes or asks from the community showing up in other energy infrastructure projects from solar to carbon capture and sequestration to grid modernization and or to, I guess, a broader set of industrial decarbonization projects? 

Dave Foster: (16:49)
There absolutely are a lot of similarities. And, you know, living in the midwestern part of the country, it’s been very interesting to me to watch how different responses to different technologies oftentimes evoke the same responses in people from, you know, kind of radically different political perspectives. And so, for instance, you would think that people who live in North or South Dakota would have no problem whatsoever with carbon capture pipelines. Since North Dakota is a very large oil and natural gas producer you would think they were generally states that are sympathetic to the continued use of fossil fuels. And yet, and, and of course a lot of support for ethanol because there are many corn farmers that produce corn specifically for ethanol plants that are scattered throughout the rural countryside. And yet the opposition to carbon capture sequestration pipelines has been growing by leaps and bounds and become, you know, actually a real problem in terms of advancing that technology. 

Dave Foster:  (18:03)
And I wonder somewhat if it’s the lack of community engagement early on that has prevented in some cases the kinds of discussions that result in resolving questions, getting community buy-in, and getting a deeper understanding of some of the benefits of these technologies. And I say that just by comparison, because in my home state, the state of Minnesota, a very actively engaged public utilities commission held numerous public hearings. People went out representing them, various state agencies into rural communities talking about the stabilizing effect that these pipelines were going to have on corn markets for ethanol that was important to the low carbon fuel standards in the state of California. And there was no opposition whatsoever. And our public utilities commission voted unanimously to permit these pipelines to subsequently have been shut down because of the opposition in the Dakotas. 

And really, to me, it was a failure of being able to have, you know, that level of community engagement that I think Madeline has been a, a long time champion of, and that the work she’s done has shown that it can really have effective results in terms of changing people’s minds. So I think, you know, that approach is extraordinarily important. And, you know, I would just add, as someone who’s been involved in the controversial mining industry for, you know, 35 years, that is definitely an industry that shows that those who decide to go the high road of community engagement and standards that are open to public scrutiny and debate are the only people anymore that have a chance of moving forward. And so I think that approach to new technologies like hydrogen and CCS is very important. And as we’re starting to see in some other states, opposition to large scale wind and solar farms is also becoming an issue that has to be engaged over and where that’s happening, I think there’s a great deal more success. 

Valerie Karplus: (20:28)
I think it’s a great, great examples. And I, turning back to the, the case of hydrogen, I mean, given the positivity that we, you know, was reflected in the survey results, do you think we’re, we have a moment now to take some of the best practice this is that you’ve studied and, and that what we’ve learned and, and incorporate those beyond just what the community has said they want or are favorable towards, sort of what, what would that look like community, in the case of community benefits plans or others? What are some of the really the best practices for doing engagement? And do we have a moment now to do that with the hubs? 

Madeline Schomburg: (21:04)
I don’t think I have an answer yet, except that we are doing this study right now. So part of the phase two of our project was we wanted to dive more into that document co-creation piece. And so we’re doing a series of case studies around the country and analogous sectors where binding agreements have been put in place. And so we’re trying to develop and draw out the best practices of how do you get from nothing to a binding agreement. And we’re intentionally focusing on that front end of it rather than thinking about the implementation piece to align with the Hydrogen Hub program and what they’re doing now. So right now, all of those hubs are working on putting those agreements together and trying to figure out how to do that effectively. So we want to inform that process. And then in the future, we of course could expand that to look more at the implementation. But I don’t have an answer yet. Stay tuned for a few months from now. 

Valerie Karplus: (21:55)
Excellent. Yeah. And, and we would love to have you back and have, and hear from you on what, what that those observations yield. Dave, I, I don’t know if you, you know, you talked about cases where there is resistance, or there is, you know, in some cases there have been sort of botched efforts at engaging communities and building that trust. What advice would you have for those here in, in this region, since it’s a region you’re also quite familiar with, to avoid that, both for hydrogen hub developments, we have Arch Two and Mach Two hubs that cross over our geography, but, but also beyond that, as we think about some of the pollution reduction grants that we heard about earlier this morning and, and some of the projects that might go forward under those, what are really some of the ways that you’ve seen this work? Well, do you have a few cases you could share with us? 

Dave Foster (22:49)
One of the cases that I almost always like to cite first and foremost because of its longevity and because of the controversy of the industry itself is in the mining industry. And so a company called Stillwater Mining Company, actually owned now by a big South African conglomerate called Sibanye, but it’s had no particular impact on this story. The Stillwater mine was opened, I think about 25 years ago in western Montana. It’s a stone’s throw from Yellowstone National Park, literally 25 miles from the northern border in Wyoming. And the Stillwater Mine is North America’s only platinum mine, and produces platinum group minerals that are essential for things like cars and a variety of other clean tech industries. It’s one of the essential minerals for the transition to a clean energy economy. And during its first years, there was a fair amount of controversy between environmental communities other communities. 

There was conflict between the economic benefits that people who worked in the mining industry thought they were getting some of the small businesses that thrived from, you know, having a lot of mining activity going on, but Western Montana is also one of the greatest trout fisheries in the world, and something that people traveled to from all over the United States. And so the likelihood of conflict was very high. And in spite of initial efforts that engagement between local conservation groups being shepherded by a coalition organization called the Northern Plains Council, it looked like this operation was going to be into years and years of litigation and conflict over every time something new was done in this mine. And it was very interesting because I spent a couple days out there meeting with both the Northern Plains Council and with mine management to try to understand how it was that 20 years ago, instead of going down the route of endless litigation after multiple back and forth conversations, a fair amount of confrontational arguing, they just sat down and decided, this is not the kind of community we want to live in, is there an alternative? 

And they then figured out to enter into something called a Good Neighbor Agreement, which had several features to it that I think are very important to remember. Number one, it provided environmental standards that exceeded what the EPA offered in terms of clean water. Number two, they created an agreement that was legally binding. And so that if the company Stillwater Mining violated any terms of the agreement there were arbitration methods by which the parties had to come to the table and had to settle the issues. And in fact, I think there were some underlying court options as well to enforce the agreement. So it wasn’t arbitration that took away people’s legal rights. Third, the company provided the organizations of the Good Neighbor Agreement with a budget in excess of, I believe $2 or $3 million a year, so that they could hire their own technical experts completely independently of the company to examine the company mine plans to look at and monitor the water themselves to set up water monitoring stations that they believed were located in the appropriate places. And then finally, they created a system, that was really transparent and that made it possible that when Stillwater Mining decided that they were going to open a new mine or open a new shaft they had to invite the Northern Plains Council and its affiliates in at the very start of the planning process. And they were not excluded from a single thing. And so when I encountered the Good Neighbor Agreement and Stillwater Mining 20 years after it was in effect, it’s quite open. You can go on the web, Google Stillwater Mine, download the Good Neighbor Agreement, read it and look at it. Understanding the company’s perspective now was this is the only way to conduct a controversial business in the United States. We would not choose to go down any other path but this one, because it’s the right one, it’s the effective one, and it’s the one that allows you to have an ongoing business. So I like to cite that, Valerie as, as to me, the kind of case study as to why this is the appropriate way for us to manage the clean energy transition as well. 

Valerie Karplus: (28:14)
And that’s becoming ever more important. In particular, the mining example as we think about, you know, onshoring and developing critical material mineral supply chains for our clean energy ecosystem. And, and so I think, you know, this has, this has been a really rich conversation, so I want to make sure that we go to the floor and open it up for questions. And if you have a question, please, please raise your hand if you don’t have one. I am going to ask Madeline one more question, which is, so at, at Carnegie Mellon, we did some work to understand attitudes towards blue hydrogen, which is hydrogen produced from natural gas with carbon capture and sequestration here in, in this region. That was work by a PhD student, Yana Yaku in the engineering Public Policy Department. And that revealed that people had some questions and concerns, particularly about CCS. I think David alluded to that being, you know, in some cases a source of controversy. Can you talk a little bit about how the source of hydrogen played into people’s views towards the technology, if at all, in your study? 

Madeline Schomburg: (29:35)
So in the original survey that we published, we actually didn’t ask about the colors. We decided to be color agnostic, which I think in hindsight was probably not the right way to go. So we put out a second study, which we, or survey, which we’ve gotten results on now, where we did ask about the colors. And what we’ve found is that 68% of the environmental justice organizations who responded to the survey only supported if it was produced through the green pathways. So through renewable energy and electrolysis. A very, very small percentage, I can’t remember offhand, but I want to say maybe 5% or 2% supported it if it was blue. And then it was about that equivalent for some of the other colors, like there’s pink made with nuclear, there’s turquoise, and a couple of others. And so it was really basically the story that we took from that was either kind of green or bust. And so that’s data that we’re still working with now in turning into a follow-up fact book, but it does overall accord in terms of percentages. So it looks like some of that big support that we saw on the first survey that was a little surprising might have been specific to the green hydrogen. And because we didn’t tease that out, we weren’t able to sort of extract that nuance in the original one. Interesting. So people are able to diff it seems like they’re differentiating potentially.

Josh Raulerson: (30:57)
At this point in the program, the panel took some questions from the audience. Unfortunately, we did not have adequate sound quality in the recording of those questions to include them here. So I’ll just paraphrase them briefly and then let you hear the panelists response. First question was regarding the EFI research and the questionnaire wanted to know if there were any geographical differences that emerged in the findings.

Madeline Schomburg: (31:20)
Great question. There were none. We did a lot of geographic analysis to try to figure out if there was anything, whether it’s proximity to infrastructure or just where you lived in the region, in the country, and there were no significant findings about location. Yeah. Which was, again, another sort of surprising thing. We expected to find more regional variation in a lot of different ways, and we just didn’t find that. So we found a lot more consistency, which is, at least in my mind, sort of a benefit from thinking about how to develop best practices, right? Because we want to make sure we’re approaching each community as an individual entity, and that we’re respecting their own sort of history and unique circumstances and context. And yet at the same time, we want to have something to operate from as a sort of guidepost. And so to me, when we hear that there’s a high degree of consistency across the country, it says, okay, we can develop a set of best practices knowing that we’re going to have to change it as we go, but at least we can have a common starting point. And it’s not a ridiculous presumption.

Valerie Karplus (32:19)

And these were all representatives of various EJ communities or so that was a, a common denominator, but they were very widely spread geographically.

Madeline Schomburg: (32:31)

Yeah. So people had to be one of four different community types that which were defined by the Department of Energy. So we had either recognized tribes, environmental justice organizations, some type of labor group, including a broad array of workers associations and unions and then a  disadvantaged community as defined by the tracker that was put out by the White House CEQ. 

Josh Raulerson: (32:53)
The next question was about basic public perception of hydrogen hubs at the level of what a hub actually is. So how did survey respondents conceive of envision or understand the concept of hydrogen hubs? 

Madeline Schomburg: (33:06)
So we did have a little bit of upfront information to try to give everybody a common understanding. We tried to keep it light so that we weren’t really, you know, imposing our views on them, but just a brief explainer that these hubs are designed by DOE, that you have to have supply and offtake and, you know, transportation infrastructure to connect them. And so there was a little bit of that, but beyond that, I don’t know what people envisioned. 

Valerie Karplus: (33:32)
And maybe I’ll just take a moment and see if, for any of these questions, Dave, would you like to weigh in? They’ve mainly been hydrogen focused, but there was a, a discussion around regional differences in interest in, or responses to, the survey on hydrogen hubs. So for different parts of the country, they differ in their concerns or perceptions. There was also a question asking about specifically when the second survey would be available, and if most of the focus has been on the first survey and the results that haven’t yet differentiated the where the hydrogen was being produced. And then how do individuals who were responding to the survey, how were they thinking about what a hydrogen hub would look like in their community, how they would interact with it, to which Madeline indicated that they, each respondent was provided with a kind of brief summary of what a hub could look like. And so any, any thoughts on, on any of those, either specific to hydrogen or applications beyond it? 

Dave Foster: (34:43)
Well I certainly think that being sensitive to the regional differentiations that exist in our country is, is very, very important because we also have a very regional set of governance principles. And so thinking that we’re going to be able to have a single path forward toward the clean energy transition, I think it just won’t work that way. And so we have to accept the variability that surround us and indeed try to take advantage of the opportunities that come from that. I know that a couple years ago at EFI, we modeled several different manners of decarbonizing the electricity industry and the power sector. And we did it partly to see if it was possible, but also, because we wanted to educate the public that you could have, a pathway toward, say 65%, greenhouse gas emission reductions by 2030 in the utility sector. 

Dave Foster: (35:50)
In some cases you could do it by virtually eliminating all coal-fired power plants, but you would have, you know, enormous investments that would have to be made in offshore wind and other renewables. But you could also reach that same target and keep a hundred gigawatts of coal-fired power plants online. And that, of course, is a bit of a lifeline for the transition for the communities that are currently depending on them. And to me, that was really a lesson that there isn’t just one path to reach very considerably very early targets on greenhouse gas emission reduction, but we do have to listen to each other, and we have to accept the fact that how we go down this path in one part of the country might differ from how it is in another part of the country. And certainly acceptance levels, I would imagine of say the introduction of something like hydrogen where people are already quite familiar with it down in the Texas/Louisiana Gulf will be a lot easier to accomplish than it will be, say, in an area where people think of hydrogen as something foreign unknown and highly explosive. The same way I’ve heard people cite fears about what happens if a pipeline ruptures with CO2 in it — am I going to be suffocated to death immediately? And so there’s just an awful lot of education and dialogue that needs to happen depending on communities’ familiarity with given technologies. 

Josh Raulerson: (37:29)
Finally, there were a pair of audience questions regarding the perception of community benefits, what that’s understood to mean in the context of hydrogen hub development and how the survey might have accounted for lack of awareness or misconceptions about what’s meant by those community benefits and what goes into a community benefits plan. 

Madeline Schomburg: (37:49)
Yeah, so we did two things to sort of address that. One was that we had our little definition of what a community benefits agreement, right, in the, the binding agreement sense kind of meant. And then we explained to the CBP and the community benefits plans that DOE is utilizing. And then we actually ended up just breaking benefits down into a few key components. So we asked people about four specific things. One was whether or not it would lead to more inclusivity. One was whether or not they thought they would have more control over decision making. One was whether or not they thought that they would have more, I think it was income into their community. And then the other one was, I’m drawing a blank on the fourth, but, so we asked them about these four specific pieces to try to kind of break down and define. So we’d at least be talking about the same thing about what the benefits could look like. And then that was where we asked them, okay, so if we utilize these different forms of engagement, do they result in these four different types of benefits for you? And by and large, people felt like using those steps and methods that were outlined in the CBP guidance would lead to more of those real benefits for them. So we tried to address that. 

Valerie Karplus: (39:07)
So the CBP or the community benefits plan structure had more perceived tangible benefits. Is that, is that a fair—

Madeline Schomburg: (39:16)
So the, the CBP just to levels that CBP is not a binding thing, it’s — all hub applicants have to put together a plan for how they’re going to do the community engagement, community benefits agreements or other binding agreements can be a part of that, but they’re not required to be. The Department of Energy has indicated that they don’t believe they have the legal authority to require those types of private binding agreements. I understand that there’s a team of lawyers at Harvard who are determining whether or not they agree with that, but that’s what the DOE has said thus far. And so the, what they did do is they put out a guidance document, it’s like a 60-page guidance document that says, here’s some steps we think you should follow, and here’s some different methods for engagement. So whether that’s, you know, public hearings or town halls or things of that nature. And so then we were asking, okay, well if a, a hub developer followed that guidance to a T, do you think it would actually benefit you in these key ways? And so, and the answer was mostly yes. 

Valerie Karplus (40:19)
Mm-hmm. Okay, great. I mean, interesting. I, and I think it’s important, you know, thank you for unpacking that, that language and defining those different concepts because indeed there has been a, a kind of evolution of the way that this has been required on the government side. And when we applied, it was a DEI plan a diversity, equity and inclusion plan, and now it’s sort of community benefits plan. But again, this, the agreements and also, Dave, you mentioned good neighbor agreements. So the question has been largely around, you know, how communities are perceiving and responding and, and seeing benefits from these different concepts of a community benefits plan or community benefits agreement. I don’t know if you have anything you’d like to add to in answer to Daniel’s question, specifically, you know, thinking about, you know, what you’ve seen, how you’ve seen communities perceive and engage with and fully, you know, it’s the Stillwater case, understand what they were signing up to in a, in a deliberate way. What was education necessary? What was the, how did that evolve? 

Dave Foster: (41:33)
Oh, I think de definitely education, you know, is absolutely necessary. And that made meant having numerous kind of open meetings, not just the private meetings of technical experts, but the opportunities for anybody to show up and have a conversation about what was going on. And I think that openness is kind of pivotal to going down a pathway in which, you ultimately have good results. So I think that’s extremely important. I would cite one other example that I know you’re familiar with, Valerie. And that was the process by which a very old steel mill out in Pueblo, Colorado that dates back to the 1880s, when it was built and built using very old technology ultimately converted to electric arc furnaces in the 1970s and eighties. But just really wasn’t competitive, in spite of being the largest employer in a somewhat isolated rural part of Colorado. 

Dave Foster: (42:44)
And they eventually solved their electricity rate problems because electricity was the most costly input into making steel with an electric arc furnace. And they did it by having the kind of dialogue that brought the community of Pueblo together with state regulators, together with state economic development agencies and ultimately with investors and solar plants. And so the community had long had problems with some of the pollution that came from the very large coal-fired power plant that supplied the electricity to the steel mill, the largest single electricity consumer in the state of Colorado. But it was this advanced dialogue that went on for two or three years that really allowed the community, and by that I mean everyone from neighbors to employees to elected officials, to come together around a vision that built a 240-megawatt solar project on the land of the steel mill itself to allow it to become what arguably is the first 100% renewable energy fueled steel mill anywhere in the world. And it was really done by that community dialogue that brought everybody together in a way that allowed them to do this and manage the transition in a way that created several hundred new jobs, new big investments by the steel company itself, and ultimately the phase-out of one of the major pieces of that coal-fired power plant improving the air quality in the community. So I think those kinds of engagements can have a real visible, tangible results. And that’s the sort of thing you like to see out of this kind of engagement. It’s not easy, but if people work at it, they can actually benefit from it. 

Madeline Schomburg: (44:49)
You know, truthfully, one of the things we struggle with a lot is how to not speak for communities, but how to center community voices. And when we first started out with this project, we wanted to do something that was more of an on the ground partnership, and we realized really quickly that that was going to be just logistically so difficult and in the timeframe that we had to work with and the budget we had to work with, it wasn’t really feasible. And so that’s why we ended up doing a survey instead to try to still find a way to get community voices to be the, you know, the voice of the project. And so, you know, we’re still trying to figure out the best way to really bring those forward and to center those. And I welcome any thoughts on that front. And we are doing follow-up work now, so we have the other survey I referenced, which we sent out to strictly environmental justice organizations. So those are groups that have signed on to letters that we found that are publicly available about hydrogen. So we wanted to speak specifically to those groups. And we’re doing a follow up survey that’s actually being fielded right now. Basically, states that have now been selected for hydrogen hubs, anybody who lives there, so maybe some of you will be selected to participate. And we’re trying to ask, okay, if you had access to a team of researchers who could research something pertaining to hydrogen, what would you want it to be? And we’ve, of course, offered some suggestions and ideas of things that we wanted to research, but then also left a kind of open-ended, Where do you want this to go? We’ve also asked if you had access to funders, what would you need in order to engage? What can they provide to you? Whether it’s something tangible and concrete, or are we talking about things that are a little bit more, you know, philosophical? And we actually have a couple of funders who have asked, can you please connect us to those groups? We want to provide things, we just don’t know how to find them and how to get in contact with them. And so we’re trying to really help be a bridge to get those communities connected to funders with deep pockets who can actually provide what they’re saying they need in order to engage more effectively. And then also have them guide our research more so that our research is responsive to what they’re saying they want to know more about. So we’re doing our darnedest, but I admit that it’s not perfect, and we are constantly striving to improve. 

Valerie Karplus: (47:10)
Well, thank you for joining us both, Dave, virtually, and despite all of the challenges, thank you for being with us. Madeline, thank you for, for being here in person and I hope that all of you will get a chance to chat with Madeline after this panel and ask the questions that you didn’t have a chance to ask during this session. We’re going to shift to the next panel. Please join me in thanking our fireside chat panel.  

Josh Raulerson: (47:42)
Madeline Schomburg is Director of research for the Energy Futures Initiative Foundation. David Foster is founder of the Blue Green Alliance and a distinguished associate for EFI. You heard them in conversation with Valerie Karplus, professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University. Also associate director of CMU’s Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation. To learn more about what hydrogen hub deployment might look like in Pennsylvania and about the policy guardrails that are needed to get it right, check out our February interview with Sam Bailey of Clean Air Task Force. You’ll find that conversation in Pennsylvania Legacies episode 208 on the PEC website. That’s at

On the website, you’ll find a wealth of information about energy policy as it relates to Pennsylvania. Recently, that includes more material on hydrogen and hydrogen hubs in the Commonwealth, Pennsylvania’s efforts to decarbonize heavy industry, in particular, through funding opportunities made possible by the infrastructure investment in Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. We’ve looked at the effort to plug orphan oil and gas wells, of which there are hundreds of thousands across the commonwealth, both the public safety and health risk, as well as a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions from our state. All that and more on PECs other program activities, which include trails and outdoor recreation, conservation, and restoration of watersheds across the Commonwealth, efforts at community and economic development that are based in environmental stewardship and conservation, particularly in an outdoor recreation context. It’s all on the PEC website at, And on top of all that, we release new podcast episodes on alternating Fridays. So check back in two weeks for the latest edition of Pennsylvania Legacies. Until then, for the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, I’m Josh Raulerson, and thanks for listening.