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Granholm eyes tough path to slash emissions in half by 2030 without assist from Congress

Highlights

Democrats, GOP 'encouraged' by start of infrastructure talks

Granholm shows enthusiasm for future of electric vehicles

Takes 'verify, then trust' approach to oil-sector diversification

President Joe Biden's new pledge to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 can be met without congressional passage of the American Jobs Plan, but the path would be much harder and could force the administration to consider borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said April 26.

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"We don't want to take from pot A to move to pot B. We want to be able to grow the pie, and so it's really important that this American Jobs Plan get passed," Granholm said during a virtual discussion that Politico hosted.

The White House announced April 22 a new economy-wide net greenhouse gas pollution reduction target of 50%-52% from 2005 levels by 2030. Granholm said those emissions cuts were achievable without assistance from Congress, but "it's just a lot harder" and would "take a whole reconfiguring of a lot of what many departments already do."

Biden's 10-year, $2 trillion infrastructure proposal "positions our nation to put on steroids this new clean energy economy," and is why Biden is looking for lawmakers' support, Granholm said.

She acknowledged that conversations are being had with regards to using budget reconciliation to allow Democrats to pass measures without GOP buy-in, but said the administration would prefer bipartisan support and is thus appealing to Republicans' desire for job creation and economic opportunities for their constituents.

Conversation starter

"We appreciate the fact that the Republicans came forward with a proposal," she said of the GOP's five-year, $568 billion plan that focuses on roads, bridges, and ports while skipping power grid and clean energy provisions.

"They have said, too, that this is the beginning of the conversation," Granholm said. "We appreciate that, and we've got to figure out what are the components that can get enough votes to get us across the finish line. And I think both sides are kind of encouraged by at least the beginnings of this conversation."

She added that she believed Congress would see the opportunities presented by the expected $23 trillion global market for products that can reduce carbon emissions, and not allow the US to be passive and cede those opportunities to other countries.

The Biden administration has its sights set on a clean electricity standard as a key element to achieving 100% clean power by 2035 and net-zero emissions economywide by 2050, and is also determined to get legislation through Congress that accelerates the electrification of the transportation sector, Granholm said.

The American Jobs Plan also calls for demonstration projects on hydrogen and carbon capture, technologies Republicans have supported to reduce carbon pollution footprints, Granholm said, revealing that she was confident an infrastructure bill would pass, although questions remained as to what it would look like.

EV optimism

Granholm was enthusiastic about the potential for electric vehicles, sharing that people are motivated by their pocketbooks and EVs are on pace to be comparable in price with combustion engine vehicles in the next few years.

When people see that the cost of an EV is the same, or even less, than a traditional vehicle when factoring in the gas savings, "the electric vehicle proposition becomes irresistible, except for one thing, and that is if you want to drive ... across the country, you would feel range anxiety."

That's where the federal government needs to step in with funding for charging infrastructure because the portion of EVs currently on the road is not adequate to incent private sector investment in quick-charging stations, she said.

Verify then trust

Granholm exhibited a more cautious approach to throwing government support behind oil companies' plans to become diversified energy companies when asked about ExxonMobil's $100 billion pitch to build the world's largest carbon capture and sequestration project.

Exxon has said the project could capture and store about 50 million mt of CO2/year by 2030, and double that by 2040, but would require significant government funding to develop.

"The proof will be in the pudding," she said. "You don't want to just assume that somebody is greenwashing an effort because they see where the globe is headed. But presumably, they're smart business people, and they do see ... that the puck is moving toward clean energy."

She applauded oil companies for taking action to not become the Kodak or Blockbuster of the energy world, recollecting on her experience as the governor of Michigan when the auto industry and its suppliers went bankrupt.

"So before any oil companies start to go bankrupt, you have got to diversify," she said. "We went to electric vehicles, they need to move to clean energy solutions." But, she added, it's going to be a matter of "verify first before you trust" to ensure those corporations are being honest brokers and not using federal dollars to prolong their power and political clout.