Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm will be President-elect Joe Biden’s choice to run the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE), POWER learned Dec. 15. She is poised take over the agency at a time when the DOE grapples with the nation’s move away from electricity generation from fossil fuels, and toward the use of more renewable resources such as solar and wind.
Granholm is a Democrat who served two terms as Michigan’s governor, from 2003 to 2011, and also served as that state’s attorney general from 1999 to 2003. She was the state’s first female governor. Granholm, who would be the second woman ever to lead the DOE, is currently an adjunct professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley. Hazel O’Leary was the first woman to lead the DOE, serving during the Clinton administration from 1993 to 1997.
Granholm, known as an advocate of clean energy, in a Nov. 7 op-ed in The Detroit News wrote that “[T]he private sector needs greater support and political will from our policymakers to help us fully realize the potential of a zero-carbon future. The economics are clear: The time for a low-carbon recovery is now.”
Granholm, who is 61, in the op-ed said recent reports provided “evidence that low-carbon recovery measures are the best way to ensure a prosperous, long-term [economic] recovery that creates good jobs, builds resilience against future shocks and supports the middle class through this unprecedented time” of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Granholm’s experience with the auto industry could be important as Biden likely seeks to accelerate U.S. adoption of electric vehicles and put government support behind construction of a nationwide network of charging stations.
POWER also learned Tuesday that Biden is planning to choose former Obama administration Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Gina McCarthy as national climate adviser, a non-Cabinet position. McCarthy, who led the EPA from 2013 to 2017, would lead a newly formed White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy. Ali Zaidi, New York state’s deputy secretary for energy and environment, reportedly will serve as McCarthy’s deputy.
It is expected that McCarthy will work closely with former Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been named Biden’s special envoy for climate change. Biden could name his choice for EPA administrator this week. a position that will have a direct impact on the nation’s energy industry.
News of Granholm’s likely nomination, and the choice of McCarthy to take a lead role on climate, came the same day that Biden said he will select former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg as Transportation Secretary. Buttigieg was a Democratic candidate for president; he is the first of Biden’s challengers for the Democratic nomination to be picked for a Cabinet position.
Senate Confirmation Needed
Granholm, once formally nominated, would like Buttigieg need to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. She would take over the position currently held by Dan Brouillette, who became energy secretary in December 2019. Brouillette replaced former Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the post. Perry had served as the Trump administration’s first energy secretary, beginning in March 2017, before resigning on Dec. 1, 2019. He was a central figure during 2019 investigations into the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine.
Perry used his position to promote coal-fired power generation, along with nuclear power. In 2017, he directed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to establish a “Grid Resiliency Pricing Rule” that would support coal and nuclear power. FERC rejected the plan.
Dozens of U.S. coal-fired units have retired in recent years, and large energy industry players, including General Electric, have called for accelerating a move away from reliance on coal.
In comments to POWER at an event in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in June 2019, Perry said he supported an “all of the above” energy strategy, with an emphasis on support for coal-fired and nuclear power generation, saying the Obama administration had imposed “blatantly discriminatory” regulations on certain fuel types.
Granholm Sought Post
People familiar with the matter said Granholm, who was born in British Columbia, Canada, and moved with family to California at age 4, actively promoted herself to be chosen for the job of leading the DOE. Others reportedly considered for the post included former DOE head Ernest Moniz, who served as energy secretary in the Obama administration from 2013 to 2017, and Arun Majumdar, a Stanford University professor who formerly was director of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Majumdar also was former vice president for energy at Google, and is thought to still be under consideration for a DOE post, perhaps as deputy secretary.
Majumdar has been working with the Biden transition team, and has been a vocal proponent of modernizing the nation’s electric grid.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a strong supporter of environmental issues, also was rumored to be a candidate to lead the agency. Inslee just won re-election to a third term as Washington’s governor. He also was briefly in the running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Other people mentioned as candidates to lead DOE included Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, a professor at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Tech. Sherwood-Randall was deputy secretary of energy in the Clinton administration, as well as deputy assistant secretary of defense. Dan Reicher, another Stanford professor who was assistant secretary of energy in the Clinton administration, also was thought to be in consideration.
Granholm had previously been viewed as a candidate for a Cabinet position had Democrat Hillary Clinton been elected president in 2016. One of Granholm’s legislative priorities as Michigan’s governor was a mandate for the state to increase its use of electricity from renewable resources such as solar and wind; she pushed a renewable portfolio standard requiring 10% of Michigan’s energy to come from renewables by 2015, a percentage that later increased.
She also worked with the Obama administration in support of the auto industry, which was decimated during the Great Recession economic downturn of 2008-09.
Granholm as energy secretary would oversee U.S. scientific research and the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal. The nuclear program comprises about 75%, or $27 billion, of DOE’s budget. She also could incentivize low-carbon energy sources through federal loan programs, and would be expected to help pursue Biden’s pledge to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in the U.S. by 2050. The president-elect has said he would pledge $2 trillion to help the U.S. eliminate emissions of greenhouse gases. Biden has said the money also would be used to upgrade the nation’s power grid, and to support electric vehicles and battery energy storage, along with advanced nuclear power and carbon capture technologies.
Christine Pelosi, a Democratic Party strategist in California and daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, on her Twitter account Tuesday said Granholm “is a proven leader on jobs, renewables, and a clean energy future who will bring empathy and experience to the Department of Energy. And she’s a trailblazing former governor who constantly lifts up other women.”
—Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).