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Will the $750M Hydrogen Hub Fight Crime? Experts Say That’s a Stretch

Does poverty cause crime? Do more jobs mean fewer criminals?

That was one of the messages from Pennsylvania Democrats at the announcement of the Mid-Atlantic Clean Hydrogen Hub (MACH2) in Philadelphia last week. It will cost taxpayers $750 million in federal investments. Gov. Josh Shapiro touted the 20,000 jobs projected to be created, as did fellow Democrat Mayor Jim Kenney.

“This is about public safety,” Kenney said of the MACH2 project, arguing that young men who are currently involved in gun crime and “nonsense” will get jobs that will keep them out of trouble.

“These young boys out there who are in nonsense. Who are holding guns and shooting each other,” Kenney said. “They don’t need to do that when they’re making $80-90k a year. There’s no need for that. They get up and go to work, put on their work boots or whatever they wear to work, and go to work early in the morning.”

Shapiro agreed. “He is spot on. It means real opportunity for the kid living here in North Philly who maybe doesn’t want to go to college but wants to get to work. Wants to be able to get out of the cycle of violence that has gripped some in his neighborhood.”

But does growing up poor make people more likely to commit crimes? Do low-income families also have lower standards of moral and ethical behavior? It is an argument some advocates for the poor find demeaning. It also doesn’t appear to match the data.

Overall, the national average official poverty rate fell from 14.8 percent in 2009-2011 to 11.2 percent in 2019-2021, the Census Bureau reports. But the nation’s crime rate rose by about 40 percent over that same period.

“In our political discourse, for more than a generation, we’ve had this idea that poor people are sinners,” said the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, an ordained Presbyterian minister who co-chairs the Poor People’s Campaign.

That has Heather Mac Donald, Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, suggesting Kenney is misleading the public.

In his comments, Kenney said jobs would help reduce crime because “kids see them going to work early in the morning is the best example you could ever give to a young person. To see their mom and dad get up and go out to work and not have to be involved in dangerous nonsense.”

Mac Donald said Kenney had the social science half right.

“He is correct that children raised by their two parents are far less likely to take up the gangbanging life,” Mac Donald told DV Journal. “He is also correct that a family where the parents work provides an essential model of bourgeois values and self-discipline.

“Mayor Kenny is wrong, however, that there is any necessity, economic or otherwise, that drives the perpetrators of drive-by shootings. The thugs who are wantonly spraying bullets across sidewalks and into cars and homes are not doing so because they have no food on the table.”

Mac Donald sees gang warfare as a “result of a lack of socialization” as opposed to a lack of jobs and that no one “who has a smartphone” lacks economic opportunity. She also takes umbrage at the notion that two-parent households with working parents have to earn $80,000 a year to feel the positive impacts of work and family cohesion.

“It is the discipline of work itself, not the salary level, that is essential to the socialization process.”

Justice reform advocates disagree with Mac Donald but suggest Kenney was speaking too broadly.

“What we do know is that education and jobs reduce recidivism, but that’s also easier said than done,” said Jason Pye, Director of Rule of Law Initiatives at the Due Process Institute. Pye said there is limited data on the issue. “Many employers won’t entertain hiring someone with a criminal record, so record-sealing and expungement become important…Reducing recidivism increases public safety.”

There is evidence that this tactic might work. Michigan passed its clean slate law in 2020. Pye said only 4.2 percent of those who got their records cleared committed another crime. Less than one percent were convicted of violent crimes. Other states might see similar numbers.

The Manhattan Institute argues otherwise. It cites a 2022 Columbia University research paper on poverty in New York City, and New York Police arrest data. Specifically, it noted that 23 percent of Asians in New York City had incomes below the poverty level, but they also had a low murder arrest rate, as proof there isn’t a cause-effect relationship between being poor and being a criminal.

And then there is the pragmatic question of who will get these jobs.

The Biden administration announced that union-mandate Project Labor Agreements will cover all of the projects in the MACH2 hub. According to Shapiro, that means “14,400 in construction jobs and 6,400 permanent jobs for skilled, union laborers, including plumbers, pipefitters, electricians, and more.” They will be working on solar farms, wind tower installation, and power transmission.

But how many of those “skilled union jobs” that will be paid for by the $750 million in federal spending are likely to go to the young people in low-income communities Kenney is talking about?

The hydrogen hub may or may not be the right way to fight climate change. But there is little evidence that fighting crime is the right way.

Biden Announces Hydrogen Hub, Groups Decry Spending

President Joe Biden came to Philadelphia on Friday to tout his economic plan: Bidenomics. It was the eighth time Biden, who is campaigning for another term, has visited Philadelphia this year.

He announced $7 billion in federal grants for new hydrogen hubs in the tri-state area and Appalachia.

According to reports, one hub, the Mid-Atlantic Clean Hydrogen Hub (MACH2), received $750 million in taxpayer funding. MACH2 includes facilities in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

Members of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a grassroots organization, came to North Philadelphia’s Lippincott Stadium to discuss how Bidenomics has made things more expensive. The event, “Wingin’ It on Bidenomics,” highlighted how the president’s top-down economic policies have hurt residents of this Philadelphia neighborhood.

AFP criticized the grants, part of the bipartisan infrastructure package passed in 2021.

“These clean hydrogen hubs, just like the innovation hubs the president was promoting over the summer, are simply more of the command-and-control central planning that we’ve come to expect from President Biden,” said AFP Pennsylvania Director Ashley Kingensmith. “He’s spending billions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize his administration’s preferred energy sectors while strangling others.

“It’s also suspect that he’s awarding these taxpayer-funded grants in states critical to his reelection. This is the Biden administration attempting to bribe voters with their own money. In the end, it only leads to more inflation, making life unaffordable across the country.”

And Ross Connolly, the AFP Northeast Regional director, said, “Biden’s actions prove how out of touch this administration really is. Choosing to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on government handouts rather than return them to where they belong—in the pockets of hardworking taxpayers—is bad economic policy and leaves Americans worse off.

“Instead of using the heavy hand of government to choose winners and losers, it’s time this administration focuses on making life more affordable for Americans and works toward real solutions that relieve hardworking taxpayers from the harmful effects of ‘Bidenomics.’”

The Pennsylvania Senate Republican Campaign Committee also bashed Biden’s policies, noting recent riots and looting in Philadelphia and increased crime spreading into the suburbs.

“Last month’s riots are just the latest example showing that crime is out of control in Philadelphia,” SRCC Communications Director Michael Straw said. “President Joe Biden and Pennsylvania Democrats should be asked serious questions about the role their failed policies are playing in leading to a breakdown of law and order. Our neighborhoods aren’t safe, and (District Attorney Larry) Krasner, Biden, and the Democrat agenda are to blame.”

Pennsylvania SRCC Cycle Chairman Sen. Dave Argall (R-Schuylkill/Carbon) added, “Senate Republicans have passed and introduced several pieces of legislation to combat the latest crime spike. Rather than holding another campaign rally, Joe Biden and Senate Democrats should focus on tackling the current crime issues facing Philadelphians.”

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Will Hydrogen Hub Come to Philly?

The Delaware Valley is known for many things, and some are hoping to add another title for the region: Hydrogen Hub.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) promotes hydrogen hubs as a “central driver” in helping communities benefit from clean energy investments, good-paying jobs, and improved energy security. The nationwide plan calls for six to 10 regional clean hydrogen hubs funded by billions of tax dollars.

The deadline to file a proposal for a hydrogen hub with the DOE was April 7. Two proposals have emerged in the commonwealth. One is in Pittsburgh, the other an effort involving southeast Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware called the Mid-Atlantic Clean Hydrogen Hub (MACH2). By all accounts, the idea has many fans.

That includes the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia, which stated support for the hub and the money it could bring to the region.

“We definitely see it as a good economic opportunity for the region,” says Hasna Achik, manager of economic competitiveness and energy initiatives at the chamber. “As far as job creation, this was between 20,000 and 25,000 jobs in our region, and it would be a mix of blue-collar and white-collar jobs.”

Jim Snell, Steamfitters Local 420 Business and MACH2 core team member has no doubt it can be done.

“Looking at southeast Pennsylvania, Delaware, and southern New Jersey as a whole, we have the critical infrastructure and the skilled, motivated labor force needed,” Snell told the Delaware Sustainable Chemistry Alliance (DESCA) in November 2022.

“Clean hydrogen hubs will create networks of hydrogen producers, consumers, and local connective infrastructure to accelerate the use of hydrogen as a clean energy carrier that can deliver or store tremendous amounts of energy,” says DOE on its website. “The production, processing, delivery, storage, and end-use of clean hydrogen, including innovative uses in the industrial sector, are crucial to DOE’s strategy for achieving President Biden’s goal of a 100 percent clean electrical grid by 2035 and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

Biden believes the earth is warming but that humanity can combat the situation by curbing emissions and replacing fossil fuels with alternative energies.

Marcellus Shale Coalition also supports awarding hydrogen hubs that can encourage development in Pennsylvania. With the environment weighing on a lot of minds, Marcellus Shale Coalition says Pennsylvania’s natural gas resources are the cleanest in the nation while at the same time providing a viable feedstock for hydrogen production. Match that with proximity to markets and the area’s workforce, and Marcellus Shale Coalition calls the state a logical choice to produce clean hydrogen and deploy carbon capture facilities.

“Hydrogen derived from natural gas and carbon capture can be effective tools to decarbonize key sectors of the Pennsylvania economy, promote growth, and serve as a model for the rest of the nation,” says Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Some organizations do urge caution. While the Sierra Club of Pennsylvania believes that hydrogen will have a role to play for certain energy uses that are hard to decarbonize with other technology like steel making, international shipping, and possibly for long-term renewable energy storage, state director Tom Schuster says there are many proposed uses for which hydrogen is inefficient, unhealthy, or even dangerous compared to using electricity directly.

For example, Schuster says using methane to create hydrogen, even with carbon capture, could increase rather than decrease overall greenhouse gas emissions if the hydrogen is misused, such as in combustion turbines for generating electricity or for heating buildings. As a result, Schuster is concerned that a “rush to create a large supply of hydrogen without carefully considering appropriate end uses” could be counterproductive to climate goals.

Still, industry groups such as Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association (PMA) think a hydrogen hub in Pennsylvania would position the region as a leader in low-carbon manufacturing and ensure Appalachia and the Mid-Atlantic remains an energy powerhouse for years to come.

“The economic growth stemming from this type of project will prove beneficial to communities throughout Pennsylvania where growth has been stagnant, and unemployment has been prevalent,” says PMA executive director Carl Marrara. “Now more than ever, we need to put our nation’s resources to work for American job creators and consumers. Unleashing American energy leadership through developing hydrogen hubs in our region is essential for our commonwealth and the United States as a whole.”

The DOE told Delaware Valley Journal it plans to announce which projects were selected in the fall.

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