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Biden picks former Michigan governor for energy secretary

Jennifer Granholm brings clean energy, manufacturing support, and state government experience

by Jeff Johnson, special to C&EN
December 28, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 1

Photo of Jennifer Granholm
Credit: CNP/AdMedia/SIPA/Newscom

President-elect Joe Biden linked jobs and clean energy development in choosing Jennifer Granholm to head the Department of Energy. A former two-term Michigan governor and single-term state attorney general, Granholm has broad state government experience, particularly on issues related to manufacturing, energy, and the auto industry.

In the role of energy secretary, she is expected to push for electric vehicles and related job creation.

Granholm will be part of what Biden sees as his climate team, which includes John Kerry as special presidential envoy for climate, Gina McCarthy as national climate advisor, Michael Regan for Environmental Protection Agency administrator, and others

The team, Biden says in one announcement, “will turn the climate crisis into an unprecedented opportunity to create millions of good paying union jobs in communities across the country; powering our economy with clean energy and positioning the United States as an exporter of 21st century products.”

As governor from 2003 to 2011, Granholm faced a recession and a declining auto industry. She worked to rebuild the state’s manufacturing base and its auto industry. Biden credits her with saving one million jobs while promoting worker training and clean energy development.

If her nomination is confirmed by the Senate, Granholm will be a sharp change from previous energy secretaries, who tended to be scientists or fossil energy advocates.

“The change will be a breath of fresh air,” says Jeremy Richardson, senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Moving from undercutting the science of climate change and quashing scientific reports to filling a leadership vacuum and advancing the agency’s mission will be a much needed and significant change.”

Richardson stresses the importance of Granholm’s state government experience and ability to tie energy development to jobs. “We need to create a 21st century approach to energy-technical assistance and workforce development, and her experience will be invaluable.”

Most of the DOE’s $30 billion-plus budget goes to maintaining nuclear weapons and cleaning up radioactive and chemical waste. Advanced energy deployment, technical assistance, grants, and loans are an important but smaller part of DOE’s portfolio. How much that will change under a Secretary Granholm remains to be seen.

Her confirmation hearing is likely to include a fight over energy jobs and whose jobs should be secured.

“It’s not going to be a garden party if the Republicans are in the majority,” promised John Barrasso (R-WY) in a Dec. 20 appearance on Fox News Sunday.

“I’m from Wyoming, it’s an energy state,” he added. “Joe Biden has repeatedly said he’s against exploration for energy, a lot of exporting of energy, so his nominee for the Secretary of Energy has said this. She said, ‘We ought to be doing everything we possibly can to keep fossil fuel energy in the ground.’

“The impact of that on our economy, on jobs, it cuts the throat of my state, our economy, the men and women who work there, the energy that America needs. It’s going to drive up costs significantly for American families, so you bet I’m going to ask tough questions.”

On the other hand, Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) applauds her support of clean energy development.

“With Governor Granholm at the helm, the state of Michigan emerged from the depths of the Great Recession even stronger as a national leader in clean energy technologies,” Carper says in a statement. “She will ensure that our nation has the clean energy resources we need to make the transition to a carbon-free economy, and she will make damn sure that American industries, manufacturing communities and workers reap the benefits of that transition.”


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