The Senate confirmed Jennifer Granholm, a former two-term governor of Michigan who has framed climate change as a “massive opportunity” to create jobs domestically, to be secretary of Energy by a 64-35 vote.
Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee that advanced her nomination on Feb. 3, spoke on the floor before the vote Thursday, calling Granholm an “honest broker” and good listener while touting her record as Michigan’s governor.
“She created new jobs, leaving no worker behind,” said Manchin, whose state has lost thousands of coal mining jobs as the fossil fuel’s threat to the planet’s climate became established over recent decades and cheaper natural gas increased its share of the electricity generation market.
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., touted Granholm’s tenure as governor during the financial crash of 2008, which coincided with the economic gut punch of Detroit automakers GM, Ford and Chrysler teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Granholm was Michigan’s governor from 2003 to 2011.
“She led our state through an economic crisis. She knows how to deal with multifaceted challenges,” said Peters, adding that the economic recovery this time must address emissions too. “We must do so in a sustainable, forward-thinking way that addresses climate change,” Peters said of the White House’s plan for the economy.
Granholm’s Republican opposition included the four senators from fossil fuel-producing or conservative states who opposed her in committee: Mike Lee of Utah, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and John Barrasso of Wyoming, the committee’s ranking member.
Like many of the people in President Joe Biden’s Cabinet, Granholm has centered much of her focus on creating jobs and government programs to invest domestically in low- and zero-carbon projects such as electric vehicles.
At her confirmation hearing, Granholm, who was born in Canada before her family moved to the U.S. when she was young, said the country has a window to define its future by investing heavily in equipment and research to address climate change and grow low-emissions jobs.
“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,” Granholm said. “We can allow other countries to corner the market on carbon reduction technologies like carbon capture utilization and storage, or we can put our workers in good-paying jobs manufacturing and installing those solutions in America, and we can export them all as well.”
She also spoke of her family’s past living in poverty in rural Canada. “My dad's father shot and killed himself out of desperation during the Great Depression because he couldn’t find work for himself to support my grandmother and their three children,” Granholm told senators. “My dad was 3 years old at the time.”
Granholm picked up support from all of the Democratic senators and from 14 Republicans: Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Michael D. Crapo and Jim Risch of Idaho, Todd Young of Indiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Steve Daines of Montana, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Mitt Romney of Utah and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Dan Sullivan of Alaska did not vote.
Once sworn in, Granholm will take over a highly technical department that oversees nuclear safety and cleanup, scientific research, national laboratories and low-carbon energy programs. It operates 17 national laboratories and the incubator-like Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E.
The DOE is also responsible for nuclear waste cleanup and nuclear weapons safety — it includes the semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration — as well as energy standards for home appliances, renewable energy research, housing weatherization programs and natural gas exports. About $3 billion annually goes to clean up the Hanford nuclear waste site in Washington state, although that figure fluctuates.
Cramer pointed out his state’s connection to nuclear power and the military.
“The actions of the Energy Department affect everything in our state, from the nuclear assets at the Minot Air Force Base to carbon capture research at the University of North Dakota’s Energy and Environmental Research Center in Grand Forks, and we enjoyed an excellent partnership with the previous administration built on advancing these priorities,” Cramer said.
National lab researchers have researched the COVID-19 viruses during the pandemic, and the DOE has reported an uptick in cyberattacks on national labs, a trend officials have attributed to interests in American research on the pandemic.
“The Department of Energy and our National Labs play a central role in addressing the world’s most pressing challenges, including the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M.
Environmental groups and low-carbon energy groups touted the confirmation vote, pushing the soon-to-be-installed secretary to work with them on transportation and climate projects.
“We congratulate Secretary Granholm and look forward to working with her to drive energy innovation, clean energy and infrastructure investments, and investments in the retooling and modernization of America’s manufacturing sector — all while providing more pathways into good, family-supporting, union jobs,” said Jason Walsh, the executive director of BlueGreen Alliance, a pro-labor and environmental group.
Granholm will be the second woman to lead the department. Hazel R. O’Leary was the seventh Energy secretary and first woman to hold the post, leading DOE from 1993 to 1997.