US DOE nominee Jennifer Granholm passes Senate committee, with clean energy major topic
The US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee advanced the nomination of former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm to be energy secretary on 3 February over the opposition of four Republicans, two of whom voted "no" to protest recent executive orders by President Joe Biden they said will crimp the US energy industry and harm their states' economies.
In a hearing that concentrated on the issue of climate change, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin—a critical swing vote on the Biden administration's ambitious climate and clean energy plans—outlined his key priorities for action on those issues.
In opening remarks, Manchin strongly suggested he wants any climate change legislation to include aid for communities that are being harmed by a switch away from fossil fuels, such as his home state's struggling coal industry. He also emphasized the need for federal research and development spending to advance emissions-reduction technology that might enable continued use of plants burning coal or natural gas, which is becoming a mainstay of the West Virginia economy.
The administration will be focused on meeting Manchin's needs because he is slated to become chairman of the Senate energy panel, and the 50-50 partisan split in the Senate means Biden cannot lose a single Democratic vote in the chamber if all Senate Republicans oppose the president's energy and environmental initiatives.
The potential problems in the Senate for Biden's agenda were made clear, despite the committee's 13-4 vote in favor of Granholm's nomination. Several Republicans said they were opposing her nomination over the administration's energy policies, and not because they saw any shortcomings in her abilities or experience.
Senator John Barrasso (Republican-Wyoming) acknowledged Granholm will be confirmed by the Senate, but he tied his "no" vote to Biden's executive orders to cancel a permit for the Keystone XL crude pipeline from Canada and to halt oil-and-gas leasing and permitting on federal lands temporarily (see IHS Markit articles here and here). "During their first weeks in office, President Biden and his administration have declared war on American energy," Barrasso said. "I can't in good conscience vote to approve his nominee for Secretary of Energy."
Senator Mike Lee (Republican-Utah) agreed, saying he could not back Granholm even though she is "capable and competent … [and] sincere," because she would be helping to enact policies with which he disagrees. "I not only hoped, but intended to, vote for [Granholm] before these executive actions were taken," he added. "By executive fiat, this administration is jeopardizing Americans' energy independence and security and they are devastating much of Utah's economy."
In testimony before the committee on 27 January, Granholm referenced the Department of Energy's (DOE) role in promoting the development of a wide range of energy solutions, especially clean energy. And she emphasized the job-creation theme that has run through many of Biden's climate-related pledges. "I believe that I was nominated by the president because I am obsessed with creating good-paying jobs in America," Granholm said. "Having been the governor of Michigan when the automotive industry was on its knees, I understand what it's like to look in the eyes of men and women who have lost jobs through no fault of their own."
She repeatedly underlined the administration's support for launching "place-based" clean energy job and economic development programs in fossil fuel rich states.
The Energy Storage Association (ESA), which represents companies that are developing and installing battery storage systems to complement renewable power, said it supports Granholm's nomination and believes DOE can play a major role in the energy transition. "Granholm will be leading the Department of Energy at a pivotal moment in time with the expanded authority on storage investments that Congress granted in end-of-year legislation, and with the department's Energy Storage Grand Challenge roadmap now established," ESA said in a statement on 3 February after the vote.
In the late-December 2020 budget reconciliation package, DOE was allotted an additional $1 billion over the next five years for research, development, and deployment of advanced energy storage technologies.
Climate trends hearing
At a subsequent committee hearing on 3 February, "Global Climate Trends and Progress in Addressing Climate Change," Manchin spoke about balancing climate change progress with economic stability. "To address climate change we must face it head on, on a global scale, and in every sector of our economy," he said.
At the same time, he observed that "fossil fuels are not going anywhere anytime soon" on a global scale, with many countries still heavily dependent on coal and other fossil fuels.
For that reason, Manchin suggested US climate change mitigation efforts should focus on developing "emissions-reducing" technologies to clean up fossil fuel-fired power production, such as carbon capture and storage. "In both the domestic and international arenas, we have tackled these [types of] problems before, and we can tackle them by focusing on the technological innovations needed to do so," Manchin said.
That technical know-how can then lead to new energy opportunities domestically and abroad, Manchin said, such as exports of natural gas as LNG. Granholm signaled that she agrees. In written responses to questions from the Senate committee members prior to their vote, Granholm wrote: "I believe US LNG exports can have an important role to play in reducing international consumption of fuels that [produce a] greater contribution to greenhouse gas emissions."
According to IHS Markit, US LNG production for the month of January 2021 averaged more nearly 10.7 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), up almost 2.2 Bcf/d from January 2020.
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