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Energy Nominee Jennifer Granholm Stresses Climate Action And Jobs

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, President Biden's nominee for energy secretary, speaks last month in Wilmington, Del.
Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, President Biden's nominee for energy secretary, speaks last month in Wilmington, Del.

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm is expected to refocus the Department of Energy on climate change if she's confirmed as the next secretary of energy.

In a confirmation hearing Wednesday before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Granholm echoed President Biden's emphasis on new jobs created through achieving his goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

"I am obsessed with creating good-paying jobs in America," Granholm said in her opening statement.

She cited her time as Michigan's governor when two of the largest automakers had declared bankruptcy amid the Great Recession. She worked with the Obama administration on a bailout package that encouraged them to turn to cleaner technologies such as electric vehicles.

Several times during the hearing, Granholm mentioned she drives a Chevrolet Bolt EV and praised the car's acceleration.

Environmental groups generally support Granholm's nomination and look forward to the agency improving energy efficiency standards for everything from light bulbs to stoves and furnaces. Former President Donald Trump made it a personal crusade to weaken such standards, even targeting showerheads in his last days in office.

"She'll also be inheriting a backlog of work and a shortage of career staff resulting from the Trump administration's efforts to erode the department's clean energy activities," said Arjun Krishnaswami, policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

If confirmed, Granholm could have a big effect quickly at the department. Krishnaswami said there's about $40 billion available for loans and loan guarantees to promote clean energy technologies. That's money the Trump administration, for the most part, chose not to spend.

Some conservatives seek to sow doubt about those programs.

"What we're mostly likely to get are more green bankruptcies like Solyndra and Fisker Automotive," said Steve Milloy, who was a member of Trump's 2016 Environmental Protection Agency transition team.

But that Obama-era program also has big successes that critics don't mention. Tesla received a $465 million loan in 2010 and repaid it in 2013. The EV manufacturer has become the most valuable U.S. carmaker in history.

The Department of Energy is sometimes called "the department of everything" because of its wide mandate. The energy secretary oversees 17 national labs and is responsible for managing the country's nuclear weapons stockpile. Granholm did not face questions about her lack of experience in this area. Past nominees, such as Rick Perry, have been confirmed without such expertise.

During the confirmation hearing, Senate Republicans focused on fossil fuel jobs that likely will be lost because of Biden's sweeping $2 trillion climate plan.

"I find some of Gov. Granholm's past statements and past executive actions troubling," said Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, which has big coal, oil and gas industries.

He pointed to a 2016 statement by Granholm in which she expressed support for opponents of the Dakota Access oil pipeline and for keeping fossil fuels in the ground. Barrasso asked if she stands by that comment.

"I think it is important that as we develop fossil fuels that we also develop the technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Granholm responded.

Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana asked about the lag time between when some fossil fuel workers might lose their jobs and when the Biden administration's promise of green jobs becomes reality.

"If you've lost a job that's putting food on the table now, it's cold comfort to know that years from now — perhaps in a different state with a different training within which you have — there'll be another job available," Cassidy said.

Granholm committed to ensuring there will be a focus on creating jobs in states with a history of producing fossil fuels.

From her experience in Michigan, she said, that "when we focused on providing incentives for job providers to locate in Michigan in clean energy, they came."

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the incoming chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said he expected Granholm to be confirmed.

If that happens, Granholm has told federal ethics officials she will divest millions of dollars in energy-related investments and step down from the board of Proterra, a company that makes electric buses.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.