CABINET HEARING: Jennifer Granholm, Nominee for Secretary of Energy

January 27, 2021, Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

Questions from Senators touched on topics including carbon emissions, clean energy and American jobs, oil and natural gas, and national security. Several Republicans expressed concern about the Biden administration’s clean energy plan and the effects it could have on the workforce. 

ISSUES RAISED

    • Carbon Emissions – Multiple Senators asked Granholm about carbon emissions. Granholm stated that reducing carbon emissions is not only great for the environment, but it has other positive effects including energy independence and job creation. Granholm added that she did not believe that the U.S. will get to carbon neutral without oil and natural gas alongside carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technology. 
    • Clean Energy – Multiple Senators asked Granholm about the importance of clean energy. Granholm noted there are a lot of opportunities to manufacture the technology needed to produce cleaner energy. She also emphasized that using cleaner energy is cheaper than other energy sources. 
    • American Jobs – Multiple Senators asked Granholm how jobs eliminated during a switch to clean energy would be replaced and how quickly this would occur. Granholm stated that jobs will be eliminated but even more jobs can be created. She noted that from her experience as Governor of Michigan, the best way to create more jobs is to use a place-based strategy that includes economic incentives for companies to move to the area. 
  • Oil and Natural Gas – Multiple Senators raised concerns about oil and natural gas. Granholm noted that it is a good thing that the U.S. is the largest oil and natural gas producer but added that we need to ensure it is produced cleanly. Regarding the 60-day ban on oil and natural gas permits on federal land, Granholm stated that the licenses that are currently operating will not be interrupted as it only applies to future licenses.
  • National Security – Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) asked Granholm about national security concerns including mineral security and cybersecurity. Granholm emphasized the importance of securing the U.S. supply chain for products like batteries. Granholm expressed her concern regarding the recent solar energy hacks and added that there will be a dedicated person at the Department of Energy who will be responsible for the cybersecurity of the U.S. grid. 

TAKEAWAY

For the Biden administration, today was an important day to showcase the significant talent that will be working on the President’s most important policy goals – combatting climate change and achieving cleaner energy production and generation. While Secretary John Kerry, the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, and Gina McCarthy, the White House National Climate Advisor, introduced President Biden’s executive orders to tackle the climate change crisis both abroad and at home, former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm had her confirmation hearing to be Energy Secretary before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. 

Jennifer Granholm served as Michigan’s Governor for two terms from 2003 to 2011 and was confronted with the difficult balancing act of fighting to protect the manufacturing industries that were devastated from the economic recession in 2008 and 2009 while also being a staunch supporter of alternative energy, including solar, wind, and battery technology. During the 2020 presidential campaign, Granholm was one of President Biden’s most active surrogates and a loyal supporter.  

One of the most difficult challenges Granholm will face as Energy Secretary is achieving the goals set by President Biden of a net zero economy by 2050 and creating millions of new jobs through significant investments in renewable energy while providing relief to the coal, oil, and gas industries that are expected to be affected by this transition. Granholm will likely rely on her experience as Governor during the 2008 recession as she worked with displaced autoworkers providing job training and relief. Granholm’s comments on employing an all of the above strategy could be very telling as she looks to follow through on achieving Biden’s climate agenda. “If we’re going to get to net carbon zero emissions by 2050, we cannot do it without coal, oil and gas being part of the mix… the nation still needs to embrace new technologies to capture and reduce greenhouse gases and look to renewable and alternative sources of energy as well to meet that goal.”

Many of the concerns raised during the hearing were split among partisan lines. Democrats voiced strong support for significant reduction in carbon emissions to tackle climate change and major federal investments in renewable technologies that will produce millions of high paying jobs. Republicans were skeptical of how the Biden climate and energy agenda would impact the economy that has already been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic and were particularly sensitive to the potential for jobs lost in the oil, gas, and coal industries. With such a tight margin in the Senate, and an even distribution of members on the committee, it will be interesting to observe the relationship between Chairman Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Granholm assuming she is confirmed. Chairman Manchin has been very vocal throughout his tenure regarding his real concerns of the impact of American jobs that could be left behind in the coal, oil, and gas industries.   

WHAT’S NEXT?

While there were real differences of opinion on the best direction for energy policy under a Biden administration, it is expected that Granholm will be confirmed as Energy Secretary. Historically, the energy secretary implements the regulatory apparatus involving electric generation and petroleum reserves, as well as managing the nation’s nuclear arsenal, storage of nuclear waste and 17 national laboratories as well as administering investment into alternative fuels and renewable technologies. With energy policy growing more partisan, it will be interesting to see what actually will be achieved over the next four years.