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US Senate confirms former Michigan Governor Granholm as Energy Secretary

25 February 2021 Amena Saiyid

Despite the opposition of mostly Republicans, the US Senate confirmed former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm on 25 February to head the Department of Energy (DOE) and oversee the Biden administration's clean energy and climate agenda.

After a 64-35 vote, Granholm will now head an agency that is charged with overseeing and implementing US energy policy, including the use of fossil fuels, renewables, and alternative technologies such as energy storage and fuel cells.

After the vote, Granholm headed to Twitter to thank senators for their backing. "My sincere thanks to the Senate for your confidence in me. I'm obsessed with creating good-paying clean energy jobs in all corners of America in service of addressing our climate crisis. I'm impatient for results. Now let's get to work!" she tweeted.

US Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat-West Virginia, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources and is considered a critical vote in promoting the Biden administration's climate and clean energy agenda, backed Granholm for the role.

Manchin has expressed concerns about Biden's push for clean energy at the expense of coal, which remains the mainstay of West Virginia's economy.

However, he had no reservations about backing Granholm's nomination, saying "she committed to working with me to ensure that we don't leave any workers behind as we move towards a cleaner energy future."

'War on American Energy'

Granholm's confirmation was opposed by the energy committee's top-ranking Republican, John Barrasso of Wyoming, who has taken exception to what he calls Biden's "war on American energy and American energy workers."

Upon taking office, Biden revoked the presidential permit for the Keystone XL crude pipeline and ordered the Department of the Interior to freeze all new oil, gas, and coal leases on federal lands.

"I just can't stand by as his administration tries to crush Wyoming's economy," Barrasso said in a floor speech prior to the vote.

Granholm has emphasized the role that DOE would play in promoting the development of a wide range of energy solutions, especially clean energy and energy storage. During her 27 January hearing before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, 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."

Industry response positive

The Energy Storage Association (ESA), which represents companies that are developing and installing battery storage systems to complement renewable power, said Granholm's confirmation comes at a "pivotal moment" for the US, as the country 's energy infrastructure deals with the impact of climate change.

The ESA said it looked forward to working with Granholm, especially in the wake of Biden's 24 February executive order to his administration to review the risks to supply chains for critical materials and minerals needed to secure and advance US-made clean energy technologies. Specifically, Biden has ordered a 100-day review of the supply chains of four key products—pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, rare earth metals, and large capacity batteries used in electric cars—and a longer term review of six more sectors including defense, public health, energy and food production

Under this order, he has directed DOE to identify risks in the supply chain for high-capacity batteries including electric vehicle batteries and to recommend policies to address these risks.

"Energy storage is fundamental for the transition to a resilient clean energy economy," ESA said in a statement. "As the grid disruption in Texas has shown, tackling the climate crisis requires both mitigation through decarbonized power & transportation and adaptation through a more resilient infrastructure."

The Biden administration appointed Kelly Speakes-Backman, who until her appointment 21 January was the ESA's chief executive officer, to serve as the principal deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency & renewable energy.

Granholm's confirmation was welcomed by power groups, too.

"Having worked on energy policy with Secretary Granholm, I know that she is committed to the Biden administration's interlinked goals of boosting the US economy and combating climate change, and the new secretary well understands the importance of building transmission infrastructure to unlock renewable energy potential and help meet America's climate needs," Heather Zichal, chief executive officer of the American Clean Power Association, said in a statement.

Granholm's confirmation also was lauded by the CEO-led Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council (ESCC), which serves as the principal liaison between the federal government and the electric power industry on efforts to prepare for and respond to national-level disasters or threats to critical infrastructure.

"The ESCC remains committed to working across the industry and with Secretary Granholm and our government partners to apply the lessons learned in 2020 to our work to enhance the resilience and security of the North American energy grid," the group said.

A 'herculean task'

Though pleased with her confirmation, the nonprofit Sierra Club, however, warned Granholm that she has a "herculean task" ahead of her to move the US towards Biden's pledge to reduce the power sector to net-zero carbon levels by 2035.

"The next 10 years are vital to addressing the climate crisis and effective federal policy must be put into place to give us a fighting chance," Melinda Pierce, Sierra Club's legislative director, said in a statement. She said DOE can and must focus on growing clean energy, and "not locking the country into decades of fossil fuel development by supporting infrastructure such as LNG terminals."

DOE sets energy standards for home appliances; promotes and advances renewable energy research; oversees housing weatherization programs and natural gas exports. The largest share of the agency's budget is directed to nuclear waste cleanup and nuclear weapons safety and includes the semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration.

Posted 25 February 2021 by Amena Saiyid, Senior Climate & Energy Research Analyst, IHS Markit

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