Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said making the U.S. more competitive in producing clean energy technology would create jobs and advance President Joe Biden’s carbon-reduction goals during a Senate hearing to consider her nomination for Secretary of Energy.
The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources grilled Granholm for nearly three hours Wednesday, the first step in the process of confirming the Biden nominee. In her opening remarks, Granholm said she was nominated “because I am obsessed with creating good-paying jobs” and reflected on her work as governor to transition Michigan’s economy toward manufacturing clean energy products.
“This is a sector that every single state can benefit from,” Granholm said. “The products that reduce carbon emissions are going to create a $23 trillion global market by 2030. That is a massive opportunity. So, we can buy electric car batteries from Asia or we can make them in America. We can install wind turbines from Denmark or we can make them in America.”
The Department of Energy is responsible for managing the country’s nuclear infrastructure and administering energy policy. Biden’s nomination of Granholm, who was a champion for diversifying Michigan’s economy with renewable energy technology, is considered a reflection of his climate goals.
Granholm, 61, was introduced by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, who touted the former governor’s work to manage Michigan’s fragile economy during the Great Recession and auto bailout. Both members of Congress credited Granholm with rescuing Michigan’s auto industry.
“Right now, our nation faces a whole host of challenges, from getting this pandemic under control to building back the economy and our middle class, updating our infrastructure for our clean energy future, to taking steps to solve the climate crisis,” Stabenow said. “These are big challenges and big challenges require big solutions, and that’s why Gov. Jennifer Granholm is such a great fit to lead The Department of Energy.”
Granholm, who said she drives a Chevy Bolt, frequently referenced the Biden administration’s commitment to boost electric vehicle production and expand charging stations across the country. She noted that a third of all North American electric vehicle battery production takes place in Michigan.
Senators pushed Granholm to explain how she would protect the interests of people working in the fossil fuel industry and maintain U.S. energy independence while working toward her goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The target is also a goal of Biden’s climate policy.
Granholm said the U.S. does not need to completely remove oil, gas and coal from its energy portfolio to achieve net-zero emissions in the next three decades. Granholm said carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technologies, which essentially reduce carbon in the atmosphere, are an important tool in cutting emissions without cutting jobs.
“I think we must use those technologies to keep people employed and to clean up and remain energy independent,” she said.
In response to a question, Granholm said she did not speak with Biden before he issued a 60-day moratorium on new oil and natural gas leases and drilling permits on federal land. Biden also issued an executive order Wednesday issuing an indefinite hold on new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or offshore waters.
Granholm said she doesn’t want to see “any jobs sacrificed.” She said the Biden administration put together “a sort of SWAT team” focused on making sure communities with a large number of fossil fuel jobs aren’t left behind during the transition to clean energy.
Members of the Senate panel acknowledged the potential impacts of climate change on the economy and environment but also expressed concerns about protecting the livelihoods of workers. Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said her home state is seeing “the daily impact of climate change” but asked Granholm to understand the concern of families who feel threatened by Biden’s climate goals.
“I hope you appreciate and understand the anxiety in families and the anxiety in communities and our states,” Murkowski said. “In my state of Alaska, it is our oil resources that have allowed us to build our schools, build our roads.”
Granholm said she understood the fear being felt by workers in the fossil fuel industry.
“The experience I had in Michigan seared my soul on behalf of workers who were feeling utter anxiety about ‘who is ever going to hire me,’” Granholm said. “The use of technology allows us to be able to assure families that can still have a job and we can use technology to reduce carbon emissions. We can still use the resources we have and reduce carbon emissions.
The conversation routinely turned toward America’s competitiveness in the global market.
“We better believe that China is in this game, they are aggressively competing,” Granholm said. “States individually are bringing a knife to a gunfight and without a federal partner in making sure that we can get these jobs in America, then we will be losing globally.”
Granholm, the first woman to serve as governor in Michigan from 2003 to 2010, was also previously the state’s first female attorney general.
Some Republicans criticized Granholm for holding investments in the energy sector before Wednesday’s hearing. No senators raised objections to her investments during the hearing.
Granholm said she intends to resign from her position on the board of the Marinette Marine Corporation, a ship construction company, and Proterra, Inc., an automotive and energy storage company based in California. She pledged to recuse herself from business involving either company for one year.
The former governor said she would divest her stock options in Proterra and forfeit unvested stock options within 180 days of her confirmation.
Granholm already resigned from her teaching position at the University of California Berkeley but will continue to participate in the university’s pension plan and receive health coverage offered through her husband’s employment there. Granholm’s husband Daniel Mulhern, will continue to teach at UC-Berkeley.
Per her ethics agreement, Granholm intends to seek a written waiver to participate in matters related to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which is owned by the Department of Energy and managed by the university.
Granholm’s ethics agreement outlines her plan to divest from a wide range of companies 90 days after her confirmation, including Apple, AT&T, Duke Energy, First Solar, Inc., Ford Motor Co., Pfizer and others.
Documents submitted to ethics officials by Granholm disclosed her financial assets and salary. Granholm earned at least $1.7 million from her roles as CEO of a political consulting business co-owned with her husband ($958,376), board chair for American Bridge Foundation ($228,608) and Media Matters for America ($200,624), as a political contributor at CNN ($200,00) and professor at UC-Berkeley ($114,000).
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