Biden announces Granholm as nominee for energy post

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

President-elect Joe Biden formally announced Thursday his intent to nominate former two-term Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to serve in his Cabinet as energy secretary. 

Granholm is poised to helm a $35 billion-a-year agency tasked 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. 

If confirmed, Granholm would be only the second woman to hold the position in a non-acting capacity. Hazel O'Leary was the first under President Bill Clinton.

"I’m honored that President-elect @joeBiden has placed his faith in me as his Energy Secretary nominee. We have an opportunity to build back better while creating millions of jobs — we can do it!" Granholm tweeted. 

Biden announced Granholm's nomination among others on his team of climate advisers, including North Carolina's Michael Regan as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland for Secretary of the Interior.

In this July 28, 2016, file photo, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm speaks during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

“This brilliant, tested, trailblazing team will be ready on day one to confront the existential threat of climate change with a unified national response rooted in science and equity," Biden said in a statement. 

"Together, on behalf of all Americans, they will meet this moment with the urgency it demands — and seize the opportunity to build back better with good-paying union jobs, climate-resilient infrastructure, and a clean energy future that benefits every single community.” 

Granholm 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.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday praised the selection of Granhom, calling her a "fierce advocate for clean energy for decades." She credited Granholm with focusing Michigan's recovery from the Great Recession on clean energy, "which helped push national markets towards renewable technologies."

"She's well suited to ensure that our economic recovery from COVID-19 prioritizes clean energy," Whitmer said. "Governor Granholm also knows better than anyone how to make sure working people and organized labor are included in the clean energy transition."

Whitmer also highlighted Granolm's 2008 partnership with the Department of Energy that awarded Michigan State University the research Facility for Rare Isotope Beams.

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm speaks during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 28, 2016.

Biden's plan to fight climate change includes a goal of producing carbon-free energy by 2035. He has also proposed a $2 trillion accelerated investment in infrastructure, innovation and clean energy deployment, which Granholm emphasized as governor.

"Jennifer Granholm was truly one of the few leading governors in the United States on climate change, and she is poised to be an energy secretary who will truly make Joe Biden the most aggressive president on climate change that we’ve had,"  said U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township. 

"You take somebody like her who has such a good track record of running a state — the administrative leadership that's not just effective but inspiring a big bureaucracy, which she did. That’s very transferrable to Department of Energy."

Levin worked in Granholm's administration as chief workforce officer and later as head of the state Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth. 

She hired him to create and run the No Worker Left Behind initiative — based on her slogan — to train under- and unemployed Michigan residents for new jobs in the last recession. With vehicle electrification on the horizon, they also created a training program for battery engineers called the Michigan Academy of Green Mobility, Levin said.

Biden's pick of Granholm means the head of the Energy Department will be poised to aid the transition to electric and autonomous vehicles, he added. 

"It's a good sign for the Detroit auto industry that he picked her because she understands it, and she's already led on the electrification of vehicles," Levin said. 

"She she will work great with the Detroit Three and the UAW and our supplier ecosystem to help us accelerate that trend and help Detroit remain the center of the auto universe."

Granholm, 61, 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. She and husband, Dan Mulhern, have three children.

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 recently, she was a senior political contributor to CNN, where she endorsed Biden in March.

Her nomination will require confirmation by the Senate. U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said he looked forward to working with Granholm and discussing her vision during the nomination process.

“Governor Granholm is a tireless advocate for Michigan workers and families and the Great Lakes," Peters said in a statement. 

“Whether it’s combatting the threats of climate change — investing in energy alternatives that will create good-paying jobs — or ensuring our country will be the energy innovation leader of the world — Governor Granholm is well-equipped and prepared for the job."

In the Obama years, Granholm's name was floated for several Cabinet positions, even a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. She also was mentioned as a potential pick for energy secretary under Democrat Hillary Clinton, had she won the presidency, and co-chaired Clinton’s transition team in 2016.

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm

But Michigan grappled with a difficult economic record that accrued on Granholm's watch, referred to as the “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.

Her efforts to help the state's economy focused on advancing manufacturing and green energy. She pressed for a move 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, a former policy chair of the Democratic Governors Association, has stayed engaged in politics in recent years, holding roles with the progressive groups Media Matters and American Bridge. 

She was also head of the sustainability practice at Ridge-Lane, a venture capital firm founded in part by former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican. 

mburke@detroitnews.com