In Colorado, we get hydrogen from fossil-fuel fracking, a climate and health-destroying process allowed only as a result of the oil and gas industry securing numerous loopholes and exemptions from federal environmental protections. The fracked hydrogen process dumps not just carbon dioxide, but large amounts of the far more climate-potent methane into the atmosphere.

The industry’s marketing pitch is that if it captures much of the carbon dioxide (but none of the methane) normally produced in the fracked hydrogen process, and then buries it somewhere, the hydrogen should be considered “clean.” In conjunction with this pitch, the Inflation Reduction Act includes a program subsidizing “Clean Hydrogen” with billions of dollars, along with the awarding of regional hydrogen “hubs” around the U.S.

But as I watch Colorado’s governor and legislators fall over themselves trying to justify “clean” hydrogen in order to lay claim to a hub and some of the Inflation Reduction Act’s billions, I can’t help but think of the parable “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

In the fable, the Emperor is duped into pretending he’s not actually naked but instead beautifully clothed by being told by schemers that only the ignorant and incompetent can’t see his ornate robes. All his subjects, similarly not wanting to be judged ignorant or incompetent, maintain the delusion.

Likewise, the Inflation Reduction Act program pretends to be wrapped in environmental sensitivity, while the naked truth is a far more unsavory sight.

The program underestimates climate impacts from fracked “clean” hydrogen by orders of magnitude. Both fugitive methane emissions and the near-term climate impacts of those methane emissions are each about three times greater than the amounts the program assumes in forecasting presumed climate benefits. Some of the “storage” schemes either only temporarily hold up the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, or can actually result in more carbon ultimately being released than was stored.

Fossil fuel dependency and its health impacts, along with their financial, societal and social costs, are ignored by the program, except for vague references to “disproportionately impacted communities.” Also largely ignored are the climate impacts of fugitive hydrogen emissions, the multiple dangers and threats from carbon-dioxide pipelining and storage, and questions on oversight and “permanence” — the minimum time carbon dioxide must remain sequestered.

Cleanliness may be in the eyes of the beholder, but only if that beholder was under some fairy tale spell could climate- and health-destroying fracked hydrogen be considered “clean.” The shell game of carbon capture neither manages carbon nor, in fact, truly “captures” it. “Clean” hydrogen is a colossal, taxpayer-funded, oil and gas industry marketing ruse, one that will accelerate climate change and global warming to all Coloradans’ detriment, diverting funds and focus away from the true renewable energy future we need.

Nearing the end of the parable, Hans Christian Andersen introduces a small child, one uncorrupted by the mass delusion, to cry out about the Emperor’s nakedness and break the spell. But in the original Spanish fairy tale on which Andersen based his, there is no such truth teller, no spell breaker, and the delusion continues indefinitely. Which version of the tale will be Colorado’s?

Harv Teitelbaum, of Evergreen, is a board member of the Environmental Health Project.