UCS Testimony on the Clean Hydrogen Production Tax Credit

March 25, 2024 | 11:28 am
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Julie McNamara
Senior Energy Analyst

From March 25 to March 27, 2024, the U.S. Department of the Treasury is hosting a public hearing on the December 2023 proposed regulations governing implementation of the Section 45V Credit for Production of Clean Hydrogen.

My comments, to be presented on March 27, are copied below. They focus on four key issues from the full set of technical comments UCS submitted to the record in February: correctness of Treasury’s overall approach; necessity of the three-pillars framework; need for updating upstream methane emissions accounting; and concerns over treatment of biomethane and fugitive methane.


Presented via telephone during the March 27, 2024, public hearing for Docket ID No. REG-117631-23.

My name is Julie McNamara, and I’m testifying in my role as deputy policy director, Climate & Energy, at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

UCS puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet’s most pressing problems. On behalf of our half a million supporters and network of over 22,000 scientists, we appreciate the work of the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury) to carefully implement multiple new Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) tax credits, including the Section 45V Credit for Production of Clean Hydrogen (“45V”).

UCS believes that hydrogen has a valuable role to play in the nation’s clean energy transition—but only if it’s cleanly produced, strategically targeted in its use, and subject to rigorous environmental, health, and safety standards. Because the 45V credit has the potential to dramatically accelerate investments in hydrogen production infrastructure, it’s critical that implementation of the credit ensures that “qualified clean hydrogen” is indeed climate-aligned from the outset. If not, then 45V is at significant risk of instead wastefully subsidizing the buildout of hydrogen production facilities entirely out of step with that ultimately demanded by the clean energy transition.

The December proposal makes clear that Treasury understands the critical importance of getting implementation guidance right from the start. UCS strongly supports Treasury’s practical interpretation of the statute and the overarching implementation framework it’s advanced.

Still, certain issues under consideration in the proposal would radically depart from that approach, resulting in outcomes far afield of statutory requirements. Moreover, major issues remain unresolved related to the treatment of biomethane and fugitive methane; if these issues are not carefully resolved, the entire rigor of the implementation framework could be undermined.

This testimony spotlights four key topics from our full set of comments submitted to the docket.


1. Overall approach

Treasury has correctly adhered to the statutory text in setting its overall approach to implementation.

Because the 45V statutory text states that qualified clean hydrogen will be determined based on a lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions rate, and explicitly defines “lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions” as having the same meaning as that under subparagraph (H) of section 211(o)(1) of the Clean Air Act—meaning including direct emissions and significant indirect emissions—the law leaves little ambiguity about the necessary scope of approach.

This is the starting point from which all of Treasury’s implementation decisions must follow. The proposed regulations clearly adhere to that framework, fully comporting with a plain reading of the text.

2. Electrolytic emissions accounting

By adopting the three-pillars approach, Treasury has appropriately ensured accurate accounting of direct and significant indirect emissions from electrolytically produced hydrogen. Generalized exemptions would undermine the rigor of this approach.

For implementation of the three pillars, UCS takes the following positions:

  • Incrementality. UCS supports Treasury’s proposed requirement that clean resources must begin commercial operations within 36 months of a hydrogen production facility being placed into service.
  • Geographic deliverability. UCS supports Treasury’s proposed requirement that resources be located within the same region as the electrolyzer, as determined via DOE’s recent National Transmission Needs Study, though encourages Treasury to incorporate periodic updating to ensure regions appropriately match grid realities.
  • Hourly matching. UCS supports Treasury’s proposed temporal-matching requirement, with a phase-in of hourly matching by 2028 with no exemptions for legacy producers.

These criteria are not only well-reasoned but required by a plain reading of the statutory text. Furthermore, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provided a strong and clear affirmation of the appropriateness of Treasury’s proposed approach in light of EPA’s long-standing interpretation and implementation of the referenced lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions definition.

It follows, then, that any considered alternatives to Treasury’s well-reasoned approach must also be rigorously justified.

As detailed in our February comments, while paths to implementation could be reached for certain specific flexibilities, a generalized approach, such as a 5 or 10 percent exemption for existing generation, entirely fails on the merits. This would not actually serve as a proxy for situations enabling use of existing generation without inducing grid emissions; instead, it would simply be a costly, highly polluting give-away.

3. Upstream methane emissions

Treasury must improve its approach to characterizing upstream methane emissions to ensure accurate determination of a facility’s emissions rate.

Upstream methane emissions are a potentially substantial share of the overall emissions rate of fossil fuel-based hydrogen production facilities. It’s critical that these upstream emissions are accurately assessed and assigned to avoid subsidizing the buildout of facilities and infrastructure entirely ill-equipped to actually produce clean hydrogen.

However, in the December proposal, Treasury inexplicably proposed an upstream methane emissions rate of 0.9%, far below that which has been documented across a wide range of studies and observations. In the final rule, Treasury must correct this number to ensure that it accurately captures the reality of much higher leakage rates across and throughout the system.

4. Biomethane and fugitive methane

Treasury is right to carefully evaluate treatment of biomethane and fugitive methane fuels within 45V before issuing implementation guidance.

In the December proposal, Treasury correctly recognized the risk of real and cascading harms arising from inappropriate treatment of biomethane and fugitive methane in the 45V credit and the ensuing need for caution in the face of such harms. The magnitude of these issues means that if Treasury finalizes implementation decisions prior to fully and accurately resolving underlying uncertainties, 45V could unintentionally end up incentivizing projects that fail to deliver climate benefits.

This would be an egregious waste of taxpayer dollars and an untenable waste of finite time for investing in projects that unlock real and durable climate progress. Moreover, in the absence of sufficiently informed safeguards, 45V could unintentionally incentivize an increase in sources of biomethane that are tightly intertwined with wide-ranging and often inequitable harms to people and the environment.

Where the record remains ambiguous, Treasury must continue to maintain a precautionary stance given the magnitude of harms that could otherwise result.

Treasury must assign credible carbon intensity scores to alternative methane sources; in 45V, methane venting is not an appropriate counterfactual.

The emissions associated with use of methane can change based on assumptions about where it came from and what might have otherwise happened to it, or the “counterfactual.” Of particular concern is a counterfactual of venting, which can result in the assignment of deeply negative carbon intensity scores.

Providing a credit for avoided methane fundamentally reshapes lifecycle accounting analyses, turning the credited fuel into a de facto offset mechanism. It is also a fundamentally flawed approach.

First, crediting sources of methane pollution for voluntary avoidance is entirely inappropriate in an economywide net-zero framework, which is precisely the endpoint the tax credit is intended to support. Allowing the offsetting of direct facility emissions via avoided methane credits would only result in the temporary appearance of emissions reductions from hydrogen producers.

Second, any methane that can be captured should, at minimum, be assigned a baseline counterfactual of capture and flare. However, in many, if not most, scenarios, one of two other counterfactuals could be more appropriate: diversion from higher productive use, and complete avoidance of methane creation via alternative source management practices.

Treasury must prohibit pollution offsets of any kind within 45V. If negative carbon intensity fuels are allowed, they cannot be used to offset any amount of a facility’s real emissions.

Offsets would be entirely discordant with the intention of 45V, which is specifically designed to incentivize technology and process innovations to enable truly clean hydrogen production. Allowing project qualification via offsetting undermines that incentive for innovation while further entrenching polluting production projects.

As a result, 45V lifecycle assessments must not allow for the offsetting of 1) direct facility emissions and/or upstream methane emissions, or 2) emissions associated with electricity directly powering electrolyzer facilities or induced grid emissions.

Furthermore, because the credit is clearly not intended to reward achievement of the qualified clean hydrogen threshold via biomethane or fugitive methane blending, if Treasury still allows compliance via fuel procurement as opposed to process performance, it should at minimum adopt a no-blending safeguard.

Treasury must establish rigorous feedstock eligibility requirements to actualize pollution benefits while defending against perverse outcomes.

UCS recommends five fuel eligibility limitations, prohibiting crediting of biomethane or fugitive methane that is:

  • Diverted from previous productive use;
  • Derived from feedstock expansions arising after the date of IRA implementation;
  • The result of oil or gas operations;
  • Otherwise avoidable via alternative waste management practices; or
  • Demonstrated to come from practices that perpetuate public health and environmental justice harms to surrounding communities.

Finally, for any biomethane or fugitive methane that is allowed, Treasury must set geographic bounds around eligible fuel deliverability regions, require full source methane monitoring, and disallow any use of book-and-claim systems until they can be proven sufficiently capable.


As Treasury moves to finalize regulations governing implementation of 45V, it must maintain a rigorous approach that is responsive to its statutory charge. The costs and consequences of doing anything less would result in serious harms to people and the environment and result in a significant waste of taxpayer dollars.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this proposed rule and help support the finalization of a robust approach to 45V implementation.