Granholm vows to create new jobs, cleaner solutions as Energy secretary

By: - January 27, 2021 5:37 pm

Jennifer Granholm after the first debate | Andrew Roth

WASHINGTON — Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm told lawmakers Wednesday she would be “obsessed” with creating new jobs if confirmed as the next secretary of the Energy Department.

Granholm, who led Michigan from 2003 to 2011, at her U.S. Senate confirmation hearing talked up the potential for new clean energy jobs— an effort to assuage concerns about potential job losses in the fossil fuel industry. Her remarks came as the Biden administration released a raft of executive orders Wednesday on climate change.

“I am obsessed with creating good-paying jobs in America,” Granholm told members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

If confirmed, Granholm pledged to work with lawmakers to create “place-based strategies” to develop new clean energy jobs in areas that could be hardest hit by a shift away from fossil fuels.

“We know this transition is happening and we cannot leave our people behind,” Granholm said.

She said the Biden administration’s goal is to create 10 million clean energy jobs across a host of technology and manufacturing sectors.

Granholm’s hearing came as President Joe Biden made a major push to fulfill his campaign promise to address climate change, which he has called “the existential threat of our time.”

Biden signed executive orders that include a plan to overhaul the country’s electricity and transportation sectors, set goals for carbon reduction, create clean energy jobs and freeze new oil and gas leasing on federal lands.

The Energy Department will be key for research and development  for the plan and incentives for industry.

Republicans questioned whether the new jobs would come quickly enough for those who may lose their jobs in the oil and gas industry.

“Does the Biden administration really care about jobs?” said U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.). “If you lost your job that is putting food on your table now, it is cold comfort to know that perhaps years from now, maybe in another state with different training, there would be another job available.”

‘Skate to where the puck is going’

Granholm leaned on her two terms as Michigan governor as an example of her commitment.

As governor, she turned to clean energy jobs as one of the paths out of the great recession for Michigan automakersShe also pushed for tax breaks for advanced battery manufacturers and for a law that required 10% of Michigan power to come from renewable sources by 2015.

She told lawmakers that she followed the advice of hockey great Wayne Gretsky: “Skate to where the puck is going.”

“The puck was headed toward cleaner solutions. We weren’t going to abandon the automobile, but if we could make it next generation and be successful, that is an opportunity for job creation,” Granholm said.

To become Energy secretary, Granholm will need to win the approval of the committee in a vote at a later date. Then, the Senate will vote on whether to confirm her. Republicans and Democrats said they expect her to win approval.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who will be chairman of the committee when the Senate works out its power-sharing agreement under a 50-50 partisan split, and oversee her confirmation, said he “wholeheartedly” accepts the nomination.

“You helped save the auto industry and diversified Michigan’s economy. You demonstrated in Michigan the mission and leadership we need to tackle this problem,” Manchin said.

The Senate already confirmed Biden’s Treasury, State and Defense secretaries, and the Director of National Intelligence. The Senate Commerce Committee voted 21-3 Wednesday morning to approve former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg as the next secretary of Transportation.

Personal investments

Lawmakers did not press Granholm on her investments — which have included assets in energy companies and stock options in an electric bus company. She said at the outset of the hearing that she is following all recommendations from the Office of Government Ethics to avoid conflict of interest.

Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox called Granholm’s energy investments a “troubling revelation” in a statement last week and said the Senate should reject Granholm’s  nomination because of the energy investments.

Granholm promised to divest of any assets she holds related to energy companies as part of a financial disclosure she submitted to the Office of Government Ethics. In the signed agreement, she also promised to leave the board of electric bus company Proterra and give up future stock options.

Senators weigh in

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) criticized Biden’s executive orders to pause new oil and gas leases on federal land and cancel the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

“President Biden has already taken steps that are concerning for Montana,” Daines said, noting that some counties in Montana rely on tax revenue from federal leases.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) said she is excited to work with Granholm to provide more incentives for electric vehicles and shift more production of batteries to the United States from China.

China has the most manufacturing capacity for the lithium-ion batteries that electric vehicles depend on. China has 107 of the 142 lithium-ion battery mega-factories under construction globally, compared to just nine in the U.S., according to a report from Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Securing America’s Future Energy.

“We can’t sustain this — we have got to lean in much more quickly,” Stabenow said.

Granholm, a self-described “proud driver of the Chevy Bolt, the best car ever,” said she’d like to see more research and development on battery storage and production and a reliable network of roadside charging stations across the country.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said the investment in new technology will be vital for new jobs and to address the threat of climate change.

“There are those of us concerned about climate change and doing something about it, not because it feels good and looks good on brochure, but for the very practical and national security implications,” King said.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined the hearing remotely and asked if Granholm would push for nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain. Biden has said on the campaign trail that he would oppose it.

“The administration opposes the use of Yucca Mountain for the storage of waste,” Granholm assured her.

Granholm called nuclear waste storage a “very sticky situation” and said she would rely on recommendations from a blue ribbon commission and try to find a consensus solution that engages states and tribes.

At issue is the contentious question of what to do with the nuclear waste that is the byproduct of nuclear power plants. There are currently 80,000 metric tons of it in temporary storage around the U.S. There are 121 sites in 39 states with spent nuclear fuel.

The Trump administration went back and forth on Yucca Mountain storage. The administration included funding for it in some of its budget proposals but former President Donald Trump said he opposed storing waste there.

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Allison Winter
Allison Winter

Allison Winter is a Washington D.C. correspondent for States Newsroom, a network of state-based nonprofit news outlets that includes the Michigan Advance.