Biden introduces 'forward thinking' Granholm as his energy secretary nominee

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

President-elect Joe Biden introduced six additional Cabinet nominees in Delaware on Saturday to join his administration in January, including former two-term Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. 

Granholm is Biden's nominee to lead the Department of Energy. She and the other new members of his administration are meant to help him tackle the climate crisis in a way that creates millions of union jobs, he said. 

“Governor Granholm is — just like the state she so efficiently and effectively led for eight years — is hard working, resilient, forward thinking,” Biden said, calling her a “great friend.”

"Throughout her career, she's worked with states, cities, business and labor to promote a clean energy future, new jobs, new industry, cleaner and more affordable energy. Now, I'm asking her to bring that vision and faith in America to the Department of Energy."

"Like their fellow cabinet nominees and appointees, members of our environmental and energy team are brilliant, qualified, tested, and they are barrier busting," Biden said, noting he has already appointed more women to his cabinet than any other administration.

"Today's nominees are ready on Day One, which is essential because we literally have no time to waste."

In addition to Granholm, Biden on Saturday introduced New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland for Secretary of Interior; North Carolina's Michael Regan for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; Brenda Mallory to chair the Council on Environmental Quality; former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy as climate czar; and Ali Zaidi as deputy national climate adviser. 

"A key plank of our Build Back Better economy and economic plan is building a modern climate-resistant infrastructure and a clean energy future," Biden said.

"We can put millions of Americans to work modernizing water, transportation and energy infrastructure to withstand the impacts of extreme weather."

Biden said he envisions American workers building over 500,000 electric-vehicle charging stations across this country, and U.S. consumers switching to electrical vehicles through rebates and incentives.

He said under his administration the federal government would buy only clean, electric vehicles made and sourced by union workers in the U.S.

"All together, this will mean 1 million new jobs in the American auto industry," he said. "It will do another big thing: Put us on a path of achieving a carbon pollution-free, electric sector by the year 2035 that no future president can turn back."

Biden said he intends to bring the U.S. back into the Paris climate accord and plans to reinstate Obama-era fuel-efficiency standardsthat the Trump administration rolled back.

"Our administration will not only bring those standards back but will set new, ambitious standards that our workers are ready to meet today," Biden said. 

Biden credited Granholm with helping to rescue the U.S. auto industry and save jobs in 2009 by betting on auto workers and the “promise of a clean energy future.”

The Biden administration's nominee for Secretary of Energy, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm speaks at The Queen Theater in Wilmington Del., Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020.

At the start of her remarks, Granholm nodded to Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and said, "Thank you for your confidence."

She stressed that in the coming years, countries and companies will be investing trillions in electric cars and batteries, wind turbines and solar panels and energy-efficient appliances and buildings, creating millions of jobs. 

"But where? where will those jobs be? Are they going to be in China, or in the other countries that are fighting tooth and nail to corner the market on this hopeful electric and clean energy future? Or are they, those jobs going to be here in America?" she said. 

"The path to Building Back Better starts with building and manufacturing and deploying those products here — stamping them 'Made in America' and exporting them around the world. We can win those jobs for American workers with the right policy. We can."

Granholm, 61, noted she arrived in the United States as an immigrant from Canada at age 4, "brought by parents seeking opportunity."

She told the story of her parents' upbringing -- her mother a "funny and fierce Irish-Welsh 'Newfie,'" born in Newfoundland and who never went to college. Her father, who died earlier this year of a cerebral hemorrhage, started life in poverty in rural Canada in a log cabin with no running water. 

His father, who had emigrated from Sweden to Canada during the Great Depression, shot himself "in desperation" when he could not find a job to support his young family. Granholm's father was just 3 years old at the time, she said.

At age 11, her father found work at a sawmill "and he never stopped working." In the U.S., he started out as a bank teller and retired as head of a bank.

"It's because of my family's journey and my experience in fighting for hardworking Michigan families that I have become obsessed — obsessed — with creating good-paying jobs in America in a global economy. Obsessed with seizing the opportunities that a clean energy future will provide for American workers," Granholm said. 

"So we can stand on the sidelines and let other countries beat us to these opportunities, or we can get in the game. And I am so ready and honored, Coach, that you are putting me on the field with this amazing team to help create those jobs in every pocket of this country, and especially in the hardest hit places, and for the people who are still waiting on the fair chance they need."

The Senate still has to confirm Granholm’s nomination, and Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, said Sunday it won’t be a “garden party” for Biden’s Cabinet nominees if the GOP is in the majority next term.

“These nominees are going to have to run the gauntlet,” Barrasso said in Fox News.

Barrasso, who intends to chair the Energy Committee next term, highlighted a quote from Granholm saying the country should be doing everything it can to keep fossil fuel energy in the ground.

That “cuts the throat of my state, our economy, the men and women who work there, the energy that America needs. It’s going to drive up costs significantly for American families,” Barrasso said.

“So you bet I’m going to be asking tough questions.”

Rich Studley of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce is also skeptical.

“Ineffective Governor. Poor choice for US Energy Secretary,” Studley tweeted Sunday. “However to be fair, ‘forward thinking’ Jennifer Granholm was one of the first governors in the country to waste large sums of state tax dollars on failed energy grants.”

Democrats and environmentalists, however, roundly praised the Granholm pick this week. 

“My view: there can never be too many ‘recovering’ governors (or @tigers fans) in an administration," tweeted Sen. Tom Carper, a former Delaware governor and the top Democrat on the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee. 

"@JenGranholm knows that we can build back better through low-carbon measures because she’s done it before. She's one of the brightest and most capable people to lead @ENERGY.”

Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, called Granholm a "great choice" and said she would accelerate clean energy momentum and jobs. "Her auto industry knowledge will be invaluable as we move to zero emissions trucks, buses, cars."

New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, who chairs the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, urged his Senate colleagues to swiftly confirm Granholm, calling her "an eminently qualified, thoughtful public servant."

"I look forward to working with Secretary-Designate Granholm and the Biden Administration to update energy efficiency standards, protect our electricity grid from cyberattacks and the effects of extreme weather, deploy new technology and innovative manufacturing, and rebuild our economy with clean energy at its center," Pallone said.

mburke@detroitnews.com