Senate confirms Granholm as Biden's energy secretary

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — The U.S. Senate on Thursday afternoon voted 64-35 to confirm former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm as energy secretary under President Joe Biden. 

Granholm will helm one of the government's largest departments with oversight of the country's energy supply and electric grid, security of the nation's nuclear arsenal, research at 17 national laboratories and the environmental cleanup of Cold War-era nuclear weapons sites. 

She was sworn in Thursday evening by Vice President Kamala Harris to become the second woman to lead the U.S. Department of Energy. The White House said Granholm swore her oath on a Bible from her father, who passed away last year.

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is is sworn in as Energy Secretary by Vice President Kamala Harris in the Old Executive Office Building in the White House complex in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.

"This is a good day," Harris said as Granholm embraced her family in attendance — husband Dan Mulhern, daughter Cecelia Mulhern and son-in-law Damian Roberto Mendieta.

"I am humbled by the faith President Biden has placed in me to lead this incredible team at the Department of Energy,” Granholm said in a statement. 

“DOE is powered by brilliant scientists, engineers and energy policy experts who are the very best for the job we’ve been tasked with: to develop and deploy new clean energy technologies that will achieve the administration’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and secure our nation’s future," she added.

"I am so ready to work alongside them as we kick-start America’s clean energy revolution, create millions of good-paying union jobs, and deliver benefits to American workers and communities across the nation."

The Canadian-born Granholm, 62, was the first woman to be elected as governor of Michigan, serving from 2003 to 2011. Before that, she was the state's first female attorney general from 1998-2002.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, on the Senate floor hailed Granholm as "uniquely" qualified for the post, noting he had served in her administration. 

"She led our state through an economic crisis. She knows how to deal with multifaceted challenges and has a documented record of strong leadership," Peters said. 

"It is clear that she also recognizes what must be done to advance our nation's energy interest because she has already achieved results in Michigan. If we're going to build back better, we must do so in a sustainable forward thinking way that addresses climate change."

At least two of the Republican senators who voted against Granholm when she went before the Energy committee said they couldn't support her nomination in light of the Biden administration's aggressive climate agenda and executive actions, saying that workers in their states would lose jobs as a result.

“By signing executive orders to ban oil, gas and coal production on federal lands, to kill the Keystone XL Pipeline and to rejoin the Paris climate agreement, the president will throw thousands of Americans out of work," said Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the committee's ranking Republican. 

"Their livelihoods are being sacrificed in the name of the Biden agenda."

Granholm told senators at her January hearing that she would endeavor to protect jobs while working aggressively to transition the country to sustainable energy if confirmed to the post, promoting the market for electric car batteries, wind energy and carbon capture technology.

"We can put our workers in good-paying jobs manufacturing and installing those solutions in America," she said. 

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is sworn in as Energy Secretary by Vice President Kamala Harris, as her husband Dan Mulhern holds the Bible, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the White House complex, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021 in Washington.

She said that in states that lost traditional energy jobs, she sees an opportunity for them to specialize in making the technologies that reduce carbon emissions.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, applauded Granholm's confirmation, saying she led Michigan through "challenging times by prioritizing innovation and jobs."

“We are at a critical moment in our nation’s history when we must be bold and innovative in growing jobs and combatting the climate crisis," Stabenow said. 

"I know she will do the same at the Energy Department by supporting American manufacturers and workers as we transition to a clean energy economy.”

Granholm was born in Canada and grew up in California. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School before clerking for U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Damon Keith.

She worked as federal prosecutor in Detroit starting in 1990 and was appointed Wayne County Corporation Counsel in 1994.

After leaving office in Michigan, she moved to the West Coast and taught policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley and became an adviser to the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Clean Energy Program. 

Until last fall, she was a senior political contributor to CNN, where she endorsed Biden in March.

mburke@detroitnews.com