Biden to tap former Michigan Gov. Granholm to lead Energy Department – POLITICO

Biden to tap former Michigan Gov. Granholm to lead Energy Department – POLITICO

President-elect Joe Biden will pick former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to run the Energy Department, the agency that would play a key role in helping develop the technologies needed fulfill his pledge to move the country off fossil fuels.

Granholm, who served two terms as Michigan’s governor, is experienced in dealing with the auto industry — a potentially big advantage as the new president seeks to speed the rollout of electric vehicles and the network of charging stations needed to power them.

Granholm’s ardent support of the auto industry may help Biden’s team strengthen its appeal to blue-collar workers and the manufacturing sector as the incoming administration pitches its climate-centric economic transformation. And it would be a marked change of course from President Donald Trump’s first Energy secretary, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who used the position to promote natural gas exports and push regulators to prop up coal as a power source.

Most of the Energy Department’s budget is devoted to maintaining the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal, but it also operates the 17 national labs that have helped develop advanced technology used in renewables, nuclear energy and fossil fuel production. Under former President Barack Obama, the Energy Department oversaw tens of billions of dollars in loan guarantees and grants that expanded the adoption of solar and wind power, helping drive a steep drop in the prices of renewable electricity. Those achievements were tarnished at the time by the scandal over Solyndra, a solar technology company that collapsed after taking more than $500 million in federal funds.

DOE also will play a key role in reducing emissions from the nation’s building, another target of Biden’s climate plan. DOE has responsibility over setting appliance standards, conducting research on innovations like electric heat pumps and overseeing building and residential energy efficiency programs.

Granholm has sought to position herself as a figure who can help U.S. industry transition to a clean energy economy, a process that Biden has made one his top four goals.

“[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,” Granholm wrote in a Nov. 7 op-ed in The Detroit News. “The economics are clear: The time for a low-carbon recovery is now.”

If confirmed, Granholm — who defeated Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ husband to win her second term as governor — would be only the second woman to lead the department since its creation in 1977.

Granholm actively promoted herself to be considered for the job, people familiar with the matter said, using her op-ed to show how Biden’s clean energy goals could fit with his desire to help rejuvenate the Rust Belt economy. She was long viewed as likely to win a slot in Hillary Clinton’s Cabinet had Clinton won the 2016 election.

“She really worked very hard in 2016 to place herself as Energy secretary with the Clinton team,” said Skip Pruss, who directed the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth under Granholm. “She’s really a student of the [energy] transition. If you were to ask me what was a limitation in Michigan, I would say that she was slightly ahead of her time.”

She got the nod over a short-list of candidates that included former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and DOE Undersecretary Arun Majumdar. Environmentalists pushed hard against Moniz, saying he was too close to the fossil fuel and nuclear industries.

Granholm’s Michigan connections to the auto industry and her ability to win support for a transition to electrified transportation would be central to Biden’s vision for the U.S. economy and for the nation’s climate change puzzle. Transportation is the largest greenhouse gas emitting sector in the U.S., so Biden’s quest to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 requires large-scale adoption of electric cars, trucks, buses, trains and planes.

“She will be phenomenal for DOE,” said Dan Kammen, an energy professor who has worked with Granholm at the University of California-Berkeley. “She understands the technology, she understands deployment and she knows how to run a big agency.”

Ben Lefebvre contributed to this report.

Published at Tue, 15 Dec 2020 22:40:00 +0000

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