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Monday, May 10, 2004

What's Really Up With Bush's Hydrogen Fuel Cells Program?
I think most skeptics believe that it is just a gift to the Big Three, allowing them to continue to do practically nothing about fuel economy for the next ten years. But Mother Jones suggests that there may be more than that:

The Bush administration is high on hydrogen. The president's proposed 2005 budget includes $228 million to help businesses develop better hydrogen fuel cells, triple the assistance the federal government provided in 2001. What's left unsaid in his speeches about America's potential to "lead the world in developing clean, hydrogen-powered automobiles" is that the initiative holds out a massive windfall for Bush insiders and well-connected lobbyists, not to mention a Russian oligarch with a history of shady dealings and environmental destruction.

The source of this prospective fortune is the Montana-based Stillwater Mining Co., which is the only domestic producer of two platinum group metals (PGM) -- platinum and palladium. Last year Vladimir Potanin, a Russian billionaire whose empire already includes vast PGM reserves in Siberia, took control of Stillwater. Regulators from the Treasury Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) quickly approved the deal even though it gave Potanin greater power over metals that could be critical to the nation's future.

To understand what this has to do with hydrogen and why there's so much money at stake, begin with this fact: Fuel cells will use platinum or palladium as a catalyst. The metals speed the process by which hydrogen combines with oxygen, releasing energy that could power a vehicle. The metals also could be used in storing hydrogen and are already used in catalytic converters. If the market for fuel cells booms, so too will demand for palladium and platinum. There are only a few locations in the world that mine platinum metals, and the largest producer of palladium and the second largest of platinum is the Potanin-owned Norilsk Nickel Mining Co. on the Taimyr Peninsula in Siberia.
Much more in the article, including a mention that former Michigan Senator and Keating Five alum Don Riegle is on the board of Stillwater. It also appears that the axis of evil, aka the Carlyle Group, is linked. If you're not familiar with Carlyle, you probably should be. George H.W. Bush (aka Bush 41, Bush Sr., Poppy, the Wimp) and Osama bin Laden's father were both early investors. And check out who's involved in senior management.