Senate panel advances Granholm's energy secretary nomination

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — A Senate committee gave former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm bipartisan support in approving her nomination to be energy secretary under President Joe Biden.  

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources voted 13-4 to send Granholm's nomination to the full Senate for consideration, and one of the panel's top Republicans predicted she has the votes there to win confirmation. 

Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, D-Mich., testifies before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during a hearing to examine her nomination to be Secretary of Energy, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

The former two-term governor breezed through last week's hearing before the panel with relatively little pushback on her record, garnering praise for her grasp of energy issues.

But two Republican senators Wednesday said they couldn't support her nomination in light of the Biden administration's aggressive climate agenda and recent executive actions, saying the president in his first two weeks in office "declared war" on American energy and that workers would lose their jobs as a result.

Watch:Committee considers Granholm's nomination

"Gov. Granholm also stated multiple times that she did not want see anyone lose their job or get left behind. But that is precisely what the Biden administration is doing," said Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the committee's incoming ranking Republican.

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

Barrasso said Biden's moratorium on oil and gas leasing on federal lands could result in 33,000 workers losing their jobs in Wyoming alone.

“Where are these workers supposed to go?" he said. "How will they provide for their families?"

Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican, said he's known Granholm for a decade and has been "very impressed with her" on a personal and professional level, calling her capable, competent and sincere. "I wish I could vote for her," he said. 

"I can't in good conscience confirm her to this position knowing that that's the approach this administration is taking," Lee said. 

"By executive fiat, they are jeopardizing American energy independence and security and they're devastating much of Utah's economy. I can't support that and will reluctantly vote against her."

Two other GOP senators also voted no on Granholm: Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Mississippi's Cindy Hyde-Smith.

Granholm, 61, told senators last week she would endeavor to protect jobs while working aggressively to transition the country to sustainable energy if confirmed to the post, talking up 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. 

Republican senators at that hearing pressed Granholm to pledge that oil, gas and coal would not be stripped from the nation's energy portfolio, and repeatedly urged her not to leave workers behind in states with legacy fossil fuel production.

Granholm was governor from 2003 to 2011 during the Great Recession and pushed renewable energy initiatives during her administration — something fundamental to Biden's plans to combat climate change, including a pledge to reach net zero emissions by 2050. 

Granholm 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.

“These ‘place-based’ solutions (will) be able to take advantage of expertise and comparative advantages of states and build on that to allow them to diversify inside and outside their main industries is a partnership that we could have through the Department of Energy,” she said at her hearing.

At the agency, Granholm would oversee a $35 billion-a-year agency tasked with oversight of the country's energy supply and electric grid, maintaining and upgrading the nation's nuclear arsenal, scientific research at 17 national laboratories and the environmental cleanup of Cold War-era nuclear weapons sites. 

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, the incoming chairman of the Energy Committee, on Wednesday called Granholm "extremely" well qualified, crediting her with helping to save the domestic auto industry a decade ago and diversifying Michigan's economy. 

"She brought in new investments and new industry, and she created new jobs, and she left no worker behind. And I know she will continue to apply that mindset at the national level," Manchin said. 

"She has the leadership skills, the vision and the compassion for people that we need at the helm of the Department of Energy to face the climate challenge and, at the same time, preserve our energy security, protect our national security, cleanup the Cold War legacy and preserve our scientific and technological prowess."

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Lansing Democrat who sits on the panel, said she'd seen "up close" the leadership that Granholm provided as governor of Michigan. 

"Her talents, her diligence and working hard every day, and I strongly support her being confirmed," Stabenow said. 

Barrasso last week had pressed Granholm on her administration's use of taxpayer-backed incentives for battery, solar and other green energy companies, questioning whether the recipient companies created the jobs they had promised. 

Barrasso asked Granholm to explain why, given that track record, the public could trust that she "will be able to invest U.S. taxpayer dollars wisely."

Granholm told Barrasso the analysis he cited was inaccurate and said companies only received tax credits if they fulfilled their promises to create jobs. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy argued in 2014 that the record showed few companies delivered as many jobs as they had projected. 

"I'm really proud, actually, of my record in Michigan," she said. Taxpayer money shouldn't be wasted, but "I hope that we don't look at some failures along the way as a reason not to invest in technologies that banks are not going to invest in because they haven't been deployed yet."

In a written follow-up with the committee, Granholm noted that the Michigan Economic Growth Authority program saw a positive return ($2.30 for every dollar invested) for the state's taxpayers, just as the Energy Department’s Loan Program Office has seen a positive return of $500 million for U.S. taxpayers in fees and interest from the borrowers — "in spite of losses on some specific guarantees."

"In stimulating job growth in a recession, as well as spurring on new industries, some projects must be expected to fail, but the experience of both MEGA and the DOE loan program show that such investment pays off in the long run," Granholm wrote. 

The Canadian-born Granholm is a graduate of Harvard Law School. She was the first woman to be elected as governor of Michigan in 2002 and was reelected in 2006. She served as Michigan's attorney general from 1998-2002.

If confirmed, Granholm has said she will step down from the board of the electric bus manufacturer Proterra Inc. and divest her interests in entities tied to the energy industry and several other corporate and private holdings.

Staff Writer Riley Beggin contributed.