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Fossil Fuels

Energy secretary hearing focused on jobs

Confirmation hearing for Jennifer Granholm centered on who will gain or lose from move to cleaner energy

by Jeff Johnson, special to C&EN
January 29, 2021

Photo of Jennifer Granholm holding her hands wide in front of a microphone.
Credit: CNP/Polaris/Newscom
Secretary of energy nominee Jennifer Granholm testified at a US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Jan. 27, 2021.

The US is on the cusp of an energy transformation, driven by the need to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions to cut the impact of climate change, according to President Joe Biden’s nominee for energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm. But rather than cost jobs, the transformation will net millions of new ones in a growing clean energy sector, Granholm said when testifying before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Jan. 27.

Granholm, a former Michigan governor, led a drive to revitalize a failing economy in her state. She is credited with creating roughly one million jobs, primarily based on hiring for clean energy products, such as vehicles and batteries. The Biden-Harris administration hopes to repeat that success on a national level. Granholm and the Department of Energy will be key members of a team expected to bring this about.

The energy transformation will depend heavily on clean technologies, some new and some untested at scale. People who develop and deploy these technologies will be critical to that transformation’s success.

Granholm’s 2 h Senate hearing revealed sharp division among senators from places that can benefit from this clean energy transformation and from regions that could lose. Unlike past energy secretary confirmation hearings, which often focused on support for fossil fuels and new technologies, this one was all about jobs, the economy, gains and losses from a national shift to address climate change.

The success of the Biden-Harris climate plan may turn on how communities who have historically benefited from coal, oil, and natural gas development fare if this climate-driven shift is successful.

Nearly half the Senate committee members represent states with economies that depend on fossil fuels. Their statements reflected the skepticism and fears of those who might be left out of this change.

Leading them was Wyoming Senator John Barrasso (R) who noted his state produces 15-times more energy than it uses and is a national energy leader in the production of coal, natural gas, and oil. His state, he said, is the nation’s leading net energy provider.

“Energy production is the economic lifeblood of my state,” Barrasso said, adding that the administration under former president Barack Obama went on a “regulatory rampage” to slow or stop fossil production. “I and my colleagues are not going to sit idly by while the Biden administration enforces policies that threaten the economic lifeblood of my home state.”

He was joined by committee senators from Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, and others in fears of losing their economic base.

Granholm countered that she was “obsessed with creating good paying jobs” in the new energy sector and pointed to a host of provisions in a Biden executive order released the day of the hearing. These included requirements that 40% of new federal energy-related federal investments go to disadvantaged communities as well as sectors most hurt by the change.

Granholm is likely to be approved by the committee and the full Senate, but her and the administration’s ability to overcome objections from fossil fuel-dependent communities and their representatives may determine the success of Biden’s goals to transform the energy sector and curb climate change.


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