U.S. President Joe Biden's pick to lead the Energy Department came one step closer to confirmation after a key Senate panel backed her nomination.
Energy Secretary nominee Jennifer Granholm testifies before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Jan. 27, 2021.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 13-4 on Feb. 3 to advance Jennifer Granholm's nomination as DOE Secretary to the full Senate. The chamber's leader, Democrat Chuck Schumer, N.Y., did not immediately respond to questions about when he will schedule a floor vote on the nomination.
Prior to the vote, the committee released written statements Granholm had submitted in response to additional questions from senators, including a commitment to maintaining a Trump-era decision to liberate clean energy loans for mining projects and double down on federal research for carbon capture, utilization and sequestration.
But those commitments were not enough to secure support from everyone on the panel, with some Republicans saying their vote was a larger proxy for opposing Biden administration policies on energy and climate change.
U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the committee's ranking member, noted Granholm's commitment to advanced nuclear power and carbon capture technology, which he said are "prime examples of areas where there is bipartisan agreement on how to address climate change."
"She also rightly recognized the need to support America's uranium production and supply of critical minerals," Barrasso said. "For these reasons, she has the votes to clear this committee and be confirmed on the Senate floor."
However, those positions were not enough to persuade the committee's top Republican to vote for her nomination.
"Governor Granholm also stated multiple times that she did not want to see anyone lose their job or get left behind," Barrasso said. "But that is precisely what the Biden administration is doing. ... I can't in good conscience vote to approve his nominee for secretary of energy."
Tenure as governor
As governor of Michigan from 2003-2011, Granholm signed legislation to lift the state's renewable energy targets and set a statewide goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2020. Her experience in taking steps to address climate change could be helpful to Granholm as Energy secretary given that Biden is seeking to achieve an emissions-free power sector by 2035 and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions economywide by 2050.
Granholm's history leading a major carmaking state may also be helpful if she is confirmed. During the presidential campaign, Biden said he wanted all new light- and medium-duty car sales to be electric vehicles. He also proposed using public funds to help install 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations across the country and called to restore the full EV purchase tax credit.
During her Senate confirmation hearing, Granholm fielded tough questions from Republicans on how Biden's energy and climate agenda would affect fossil fuel jobs. Granholm responded by talking up the potential for the clean energy transition and new emissions-reduction technologies to generate millions of U.S. jobs.
"The products that reduce carbon emissions are going to create a $23 trillion global market by 2030," she said. "So we can buy electric car batteries from Asia, or we can make them in America."
Questions for the record
In written statements to senators, Granholm expanded on a range of policy priorities she would pursue once confirmed, particularly related to mining and fossil fuels.
The former governor endorsed bolstering U.S. supplies of minerals considered essential to national security, even more so than she had done in her confirmation hearing. She explicitly committed to encouraging applications from the mining industry for certain clean energy loans made available by the Trump administration, which experts believe could be a useful tool in fostering a domestic battery supply chain.
"If confirmed as Secretary, I commit that the department will be responsive to all applicants under the loan and loan guarantee programs administered by it and will ensure that all applications receive prompt and equitable consideration," Granholm said.
Granholm also said she planned to prioritize learning more about ongoing programs, including those overseen by the department's Office of Fossil Energy and its Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, and about advancements in mining techniques that bolster efficiency.
In addition, Granholm acknowledged the role hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have played in boosting the nation's energy security while also noting the importance of bolstering renewable energy sources going forward. If confirmed, the former governor said she will "work to ensure that energy costs are low across the country and foster a market that is fair to all energy sources."
"To reach our net zero emissions goals, the United States will need to employ technology solutions for all fuel sources," Granholm said. "If confirmed, I fully plan to commit resources to carbon management across the fuel and technology spectrum. I am particularly excited by the opportunities for game-changing advances in carbon capture and advanced nuclear technologies in the next several years."
The former governor said she intends to support a "whole-of-government approach" to promote U.S. nuclear energy technology as well.
"I will work with the department to continue to support the research, development, and demonstration of technologies to preserve our existing fleet, deploy advanced reactor technologies, and expand nuclear energy to markets beyond electricity to meet our carbon reduction goals in the United States and globally," Granholm said.
Additionally, the nominee noted the important role that liquefied natural gas exports can play in reducing greenhouse gases abroad by driving down the consumption of more polluting fuels. If confirmed, she would seek to reduce emissions from the commodity.