Hydrogen Powered Motor Boat Mows Down River Plan

Taxpayers are to pay $1.2 million dollars to promote an experiment fitting hydrogen fuel cells on a motorized tour boat in the heart of Grand Canyon National Park, an area some say is the last greatest American wilderness.

Representative Rick Renzi (R-AZ) has introduced HR 4162, the "Grand Canyon Hydrogen-Powered Motorboat Demonstration Act of 2004." The proposed legislation calls for a three-year test period at $400,000 a year to assist in the development of a hydrogen fuel powered motorboat on the Colorado River. The bill would force the continuation of motorized tour boats on the river for another 10-15 years, and would constrict the ongoing Colorado River Management Plan alternatives. Meanwhile, Grand Canyon National Park officials anticipate the much awaited release of their draft river plan in July.

A congressional hearing on the proposed legislation was held Saturday, May 15, at Grand Canyon National Park. The hearing was chaired by Representative George P. Radanovich, (R, CA), Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation, and Public Lands with Representative Rick Renzi (R, AZ) present.

Testimony was presented by a variety of expert and semi-expert proponents of hydrogen fuel cell technology, as well as Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Joe Alston, the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Trade Association Director Mark Grisham, and the Hualapai Nation Head of Water Resources, Alex Cabillo.

Mr. Grisham testified that the river concessions expect a six to eight year period to develop and test the hydrogen technology for river use. This reinforced the concern that any legislation regarding this kind and duration of test period would likely impede a fair Colorado River Management Plan outcome that may include motor-free alternatives, and could cost upwards of 2.4 million to 3.2 million dollars.

The bill "at best, anticipates a decision by the National Park Service to continue motorized use on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon, and at worst, legislates that decision" according to Kim Crumbo of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, who observed the hearing. Crumbo points out that some of the objectives of the proposed legislation, including near-silent watercraft operation, zero emission of pollutants, reliability and safe conveyance of passengers and crew, are already available with present technology. Crumbo notes such goals "are currently achievable by the use of oar-powered craft with no extra cost to the American taxpayer" and thinks a savings of 1.2 million dollars is easily achievable as "a pair of oars costs about $300."

Superintendent Alston, while expressing NPS interest for the project, also stressed that the outcome of the CRMP is not known yet, and that alternatives for the plan range from no-motors to motorized options.

Mr. Cabillo of the Hualapai Nation, citing a 75% unemployment level on tribal land, thought this hydrogen demonstration project could be better utilized on Hualapai land making electricity at the Hualapai casino at Grand Canyon West, which attracts roughly 200,000 visitors a year. Even Representative Radanovich wondered out loud if a hydrogen fuel cell program on the Hualapai Nation would be "a more attractive test case."

Another observer at the hearing was Jim McCarthy, chairman of the Sierra Club's Plateau Group. Mr. McCarthy noted that a hydrogen fuel cell bus on the South Rim would expose millions of visitors every year to the concept of fuel cell technology, while a fuel cell motorboat deep in the canyon would actually only be used by a few hundred of the park's visitors annually.

River Runners For Wilderness encourages ALL Boaters to send in comments requesting this bill not be moved out of committee. Your comments might include:

- Hydrogen fuel cells are a step in the right direction, and this demonstration project would be very appropriate on the South Rim's developed area or on the Hualapai Reservation's developed rim area, as many more taxpayers will actually reap the benefit of the investment.

- This bill circumvents the public's voice in the Colorado River Management Plan and distracts attention from the core CRMP issues.

- 9 out of 10 Americans who try both types of trips choose an oar boat over a motorboat to better enjoy the Canyon.

- This bill, if passed, would perpetuate the destruction of wilderness character in Grand Canyon National Park.

- There are much cheaper alternatives for promoting environmental sensitivity on the Colorado River that will cost the American taxpayer nothing.

Written letters on this legislation will be accepted Monday, May 17th to Monday May 31, and comments may be sent by e-mail to Casey.Hammond@mail.house.gov and by fax at 202-226-7736 and or mailed to

Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation, and Public
Lands Attn Casey Hammond
187 Ford House Office Building
Washington DC 20515
Re: HR 4162 comments

Please cc. your representative below if they are on the committee and you live in their state, and cc RRFW as well so we know how many folks commented.

George Radanovich, R - CA (19), Chairman Fax: (202) 225-3402
Walter B. Jones, R - NC (3), Vice Chair Fax: (202) 225-3286
Dennis A. Cardoza, D - CA (18) Fax: (202) 225-0819 fax
Raul M. Grijalva, D - AZ (7) Fax: (202) 225-1541
Dale E. Kildee, D - MI (5) Fax: (202) 225-6393
Ron Kind, D - WI (3) Fax: (202) 225-5739
Mark Udall, D - CO (2) Fax: (202) 226-7840
Tom Udall, D - NM (3) Fax: (202) 226-1331
Rob Bishop, R - UT (1) Fax: (202) 225-5857
Chris Cannon, R - UT (3) Fax: (202) 225-5629
Barbara Cubin, R - WY Fax: (202) 225-3057
John J. Duncan Jr., R - TN (2) Fax: (202) 225-6440
Elton Gallegly, R - CA (24) Fax: (202) 225-1100
Jim Gibbons, R - NV (2) Fax: (202) 225-5679
Wayne T. Gilchrest, R - MD (1) Fax: (202) 225-0254
John E. Peterson, R - PA (5) Fax: (202) 225-5796
Mark E. Souder, R - IN (3) souder@mail.house.gov

The complete bill text follows.

Grand Canyon Hydrogen-Powered Motorboat Demonstration Act of 2004
(Introduced in House)HR 4160 108th CONGRESS, 2d Session

H. R. 4160

To authorize the Secretary of Energy and the Secretary of the Interior to jointly establish a program, in partnership with the private sector, to support research, development, demonstration, and commercial application activities related to advanced hydrogen-based motorboat propulsion technologies suitable for operations in sensitive resource areas such as national parks, and for other purposes.


April 2, 2004
Mr. RENZI introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Science


To authorize the Secretary of Energy and the Secretary of the Interior to jointly establish a program, in partnership with the private sector, to support research, development, demonstration, and commercial application activities related to advanced hydrogen-based motorboat propulsion technologies suitable for operations in sensitive resource areas such as national parks, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


This Act may be cited as the `Grand Canyon Hydrogen-Powered Motorboat Demonstration Act of 2004'.


For purposes of this Act, the term--

(1) `Departments' means the Department of Energy jointly with the Department of the Interior; and

(2) `Secretaries' means the Secretary of Energy jointly with the Secretary of the Interior.


The Congress finds that--

(1) there is a need for a research and development program to support and foster the development, demonstration, and deployment of emerging hydrogen-based motorboat propulsion technologies suitable for use in sensitive resource areas;

(2) partnerships between the Department of Energy, the Department of the Interior, and United States industry to develop hydrogen-based energy technologies can provide significant benefits to our Nation, including enhancing our environmental stewardship, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, increasing our energy security, as well as creating jobs for United States workers and improving the competitive position of the United States in the global economy; and

(3) when technologically and economically feasible, the implementation of clean, silent or nearly silent, hydrogen-based motorboat propulsion technologies would further resource stewardship and experiential goals in sensitive resource areas including units of the National Park System, such as Grand Canyon National Park, where motor-powered watercraft are used for recreational and other purposes.


(a) In General- The Secretaries shall jointly establish and carry out a research and development program, in partnership with the private sector, relating to hydrogen-based motorboat propulsion technologies suitable for operations in sensitive resource areas such as national parks. The Secretaries, in partnership with the private sector, shall conduct a demonstration of hydrogen-based motorboat propulsion technology at Grand Canyon National Park within three years after the date of enactment of this Act. At his discretion, the Secretary of Energy may choose to extend existing Department of Energy hydrogen-related vehicle research and development programs in order to meet the objectives and requirements of this Act.

(b) Objective- The objective of the program shall be to research, develop, and demonstrate, in cooperation with affected and related industries, a hydrogen-based alternative motorboat propulsion system suitable for recreational whitewater river operations on the Colorado River within Grand Canyon National Park, that meets the following standards:

(1) Silent or near-silent operation, meaning the propulsion system should generally not be audible over the sound of the watercraft moving through the water to a listener stationed a moderate distance away.

(2) Low, ultra low, or zero emission of pollutants.

(3) Reliability.

(4) Safe conveyance of passengers and crew.

(c) Partnership- In order to accomplish the objective set forth in subsection (b), the Secretaries shall establish a partnership among the Departments, manufacturers, other affected or related industries, and the National Park Service concessioners authorized to provide river running services in Grand Canyon National Park.


One year after the date of enactment of this Act, and annually thereafter for the duration of the program, the Secretaries shall submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations, Resources, and Energy and Commerce of the House of Representatives and the Committees on Appropriations and Energy and Natural Resources of the Senate describing the ongoing activities of the Secretaries and the Departments relating to the program authorized under this Act and, to the extent practicable, the activities planned for the coming fiscal year.


There are authorized to be appropriated to the Secretaries to carry out this Act, in addition to any amounts made available for these or related purposes under other Acts, $400,000 per year for three consecutive fiscal years beginning with the full fiscal year following the date of enactment of this Act.