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Senate confirms Jennifer Granholm as Energy Secretary

Senate committees delay vote on Neera Tanden
Senate committees delay vote on Neera Tanden 09:07

The Senate on Thursday confirmed former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm as secretary of the Department of Energy. A 64-35 vote secured President Biden's pick to lead the United States' transition away from fossil fuels to achieve his goal of a "carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035."

Granholm is a vocal advocate for clean energy, and worked with auto makers to push the industry toward electrification during her two terms as governor from 2003 to 2011. 

"My sincere thanks to the Senate for your confidence in me," she tweeted after Thursday's vote. "I'm obsessed with creating good-paying clean energy jobs in all corners of America in service of addressing our climate crisis. I'm impatient for results. Now let's get to work!"

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, questioned Granholm at her confirmation hearing last month about her plan for Americans who work in polluting energy sectors, such as coal and fossil fuels, that markets are leaving behind. 

"Because the market changes — the market's changing, we know that, and people are coming to realize that," Manchin said. "How do we basically keep them in an opportunity situation?" 

Granholm called the issue the "most important question" facing her new department. "We know that this transition is happening, and we cannot leave our people behind."

She pointed to solutions like "blue hydrogen," a form of carbon capture, as job creation opportunities. "That hydrogen requires equipment," Granholm explained. "Who's making that equipment? If we're getting that equipment from another country we're missing an opportunity to put our people to work. So, in West Virginia, and in other coal states, in other fossil fuel states, there is an opportunity for us to specialize in the technologies that reduce carbon emissions, to make those technologies here, to put people to work here."

Jennifer Granholm
Former Governor Jennifer Granholm seen Wednesday, January 27, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Graeme Jennings / AP

Granholm told Manchin that she supports prioritizing those states losing traditional energy production jobs "1,000%." 

Bringing such technologies to scale will be another hurdle for Granholm. Only a small portion of the Energy Department's $35 billion budget is dedicated to energy innovation. The vast majority is earmarked for the country's nuclear programs, including cleaning up nuclear sites, modernizing the aging U.S. nuclear infrastructure and bolstering non-proliferation efforts, according to the department's 2021 budget request

Granholm will also be tasked with handling demands for more energy regulation in response to Texas' unprecedented winter storm that caused one of the worst power outages in U.S. history. She tweeted last week that the catastrophe made certain that "America's electricity grid is simply not able to handle extreme weather events."

"Whether it's wildfires in California or snowstorms in Texas, we need to upgrade our grid infrastructure ASAP," she wrote.

Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia, is so far the sole Democrat who says he is a "no" on confirming Mr. Biden's pick for director of the Office of Management and Budget Neera Tanden. Manchin has said he objects to Tanden over her history of partisan comments, and on Thursday, he praised Granholm's ability to broker with both sides of the aisle.

"She has leadership skills, the vision and the compassion for people we need at the helm of the Department of Energy to face the climate challenge and at the same time preserve our energy security, protect our national security, clean up the Cold War legacy, and preserve our scientific and technological prowess," Manchin said. 

"She may not always agree with you, but she will listen to your concerns and will try to address them."

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