Granholm is Biden's pick to lead Energy Department

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Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm is President-elect Joe Biden's pick to head the U.S. Department of Energy, according to a source familiar with his plans.

Granholm, 61, pushed clean energy initiatives in her two terms as governor and endeavored to diversify the state's economy. More recently, she served as a senior political contributor to CNN, where she endorsed Biden in March. 

Neither Granholm nor Biden's transition team immediately responded Tuesday night to requests for comment. 

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm endorsed Joe Biden in the Democratic primary Wednesday, March 4, 2020, on CNN's "New Day."

The former Democratic governor earlier this year gave Biden credit for helping to fight for Michigan in its dark hours. 

"If you all recall in 2009 in Michigan, the auto industry went bankrupt. Our unemployment rate during the Great Recession was about 15%. It was agony," she said on CNN in March when endorsing Biden. 

"Who was the person inside the Obama administration to champion the auto industry and the million jobs that are attached to it in the industrial Midwest? It was Joe Biden. There was a question about whether they were going to do it. Joe Biden did that." 

Granholm at the time stressed that Biden had advocated for aid for Michigan to help diversify the economy with electric vehicles and to prevent the layoff of teachers in Detroit.

Days after the election of President Barack Obama in November 2008, Granholm had asked to be considered for the post of U.S. Energy secretary.

Using her state government email address, Granholm indicated her interest to John Podesta, who was then co-chair of Obama's transition team. Her message was among the hacked Podesta emails released by the website WikiLeaks.

"I know the Secretary of Energy cabinet position is highly sought after, and I am certain the transition team has many terrific candidates. I'd respectfully like to add my name to the list. If I can be of service, I would be an effective and loyal and deeply committed member of the team," Granholm wrote to Podesta on Nov. 8, 2008.

Granholm said publicly at the time she was focused on being governor, but it was later reported that she was on Obama's short list for labor secretary.

Liz Boyd, who served as Granholm’s spokeswoman when she was governor, said there was also talk of Granholm being energy secretary if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency in 2016.

Boyd said that energy and in particular, clean energy, "have always been Jennifer Granholm's passion."

Former U.S. Sen. Spencer Abraham, a Republican who served as energy secretary under President George W. Bush, said Granholm would be a "strong voice for Michigan in the Biden cabinet and that she will be a strong leader for the department."

"Although people don’t always think of the Energy Department as important to Michigan that isn’t the case," said the former Michigan senator, who later went into lobbying.

"From the future of the transportation sector to the development of new renewable and clean energy technologies, the department has a significant impact on our state, and having Jennifer Granholm in this post is a big plus for Michigan.”

Several sources close to the transition told the New York Times that Biden's advisers had struggled over whether the U.S. Department of Energy should be helmed by someone steeped in its core mission — the safety of the U.S. nuclear arsenal — or a leader meant to spearhead a clean-energy transformation.

Granholm spent much of her time as governor urging a push away from oil and toward advanced vehicles and other sources of power, such as solar and wind.

In a Nov. 7 op-ed in The Detroit News, Granholm argued low-carbon recovery measures are the “best way to ensure a prosperous, long-term recovery that creates good jobs, builds resilience against future shocks and supports the middle class through this unprecedented time.”

She cited studies she said suggested that a low-carbon recovery plan “boosts income, employment and GDP more so than broad economic recovery measures alone, while significantly reducing emissions.” Granholm also said investment in a low-carbon economy would help ensure Michigan continues as a leader in the auto industry.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Dearborn Democrat, praised Granholm's "deep experience" in the auto industry, climate change and clean energy, calling her the "right choice" to lead the agency. 

"Our nation is entering a new era of energy and we need leaders willing to make smart, tough choices on our path ahead," Dingell said in a statement Tuesday. 

"She understands how energy and environmental policies can be used to support working families, and she knows how to craft solutions to the most pressing issues we face today. This appointment is good news for Michigan, and it's good news for our country."

Michigan Republican Party Chairman Laura Cox panned the selection, saying Granholm was a "disaster for the people of our state."

"I have no doubt that her lack of executive ability would make her a terrible energy secretary. The fact that Joe Biden would pick for his potential cabinet, an individual who was responsible for Michigan’s lost decade, which saw jobs and a generation of young Michiganders exit our state, is an insult," Cox said in a statement.

"When Jennifer Granholm was governor, people joked that the last one out of Michigan should turn out the lights. Now, Joe Biden wants to give the worst governor in Michigan’s history the power to leave our nation in the dark.”

Granholm's nomination will require confirmation by the U.S. Senate, which is expected to be narrowly divided between the parties next term, pending the outcome of run-off elections in Georgia. 

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, tweeted Tuesday that if Granholm is picked, "I know she'll support our manufacturers and workers while making sure our country leads the fight against the climate crisis."

U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, served in Granholm's administration as chief workforce officer and later as head of the state Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth.

Levin said a Granholm pick by Biden would "truly be growing his climate cabinet, plus picking up a person who combines top-notch policy chops with excellent management skills."

Biden on Tuesday formally announced his intent to nominate his former rival, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, to serve as transportation secretary. 

A cabinet post for Granholm, a Harvard Law graduate, would culminate a dozen-year-long odyssey of recurring rumors about her political future.

In the Obama years, she was a frequent target of speculation for vacant cabinet positions, even an occasional vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. No such thing happened during her gubernatorial tenure, or immediately after she left office in 2011 and decamped to California to teach and work as a commentator for CNN.

In part that could have reflected the difficult economic record accrued on her watch — the so-called “Lost Decade,” as Detroit’s automakers and their major suppliers grappled with declining market share and the downsizing pressure it exerted on the state and her governorship.

“In five years,” she famously said during her 2006 State-of-the-State address, “you’ll be blown away by the strength and diversity of Michigan's transformed economy.”

It didn’t quite work out that way, as Granholm lamented to Michigan Public Radio’s Rick Pluta: “I fully fess up to writing that myself and against the advice of my advisers."

Her efforts to refocus the state economic priorities on advancing manufacturing and green energy, among other things, collided with the reckoning inexorably developing in the state’s bellwether auto industry — the 2005 bankruptcy of Delphi Corp., at the time the world’s largest auto supplier, the 2007 concessionary contract talks between the United Auto Workers and the Detroit automakers, the 2009 bankruptcies of General Motors Corp. and the old Chrysler Group.

The Canadian-born Granholm was the first woman to be elected as governor of Michigan in 2002 and was reelected in 2006. Before then, she served as Michigan's attorney general from 1998-2002.

In 2011, Granholm joined the nonpartisan Pew Charitable Trusts as a senior adviser on energy to tout pragmatic solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

She also founded and for five years chaired the American Jobs Project, a 30-state multi-university research project focused on advanced manufacturing jobs in clean energy, according to her website. 

mburke@detroitnews.com

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