WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden’s nominee for energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm, defended his administration’s push for a clean energy transition as senators from fossil fuel producing states raised concerns about its impact on jobs at her Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday.
Granholm, 61, who is expected to be confirmed by the Senate in days after the hearing, wants to steer the department to help the United States compete with China on electric vehicles, or EVs and green technologies like advanced batteries and solar and wind power.
While governor of auto-manufacturing Michigan from 2003 to 2011, Granholm led a charge to secure $1.35 billion in federal funding for companies to produce EVs and advanced batteries in the state.
“We can buy electric car batteries from Asia or we can make them in America,” Granholm told the senators. “We can install wind turbines from Denmark or we can make them in America,” she said.
But Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia who will soon head the committee, and John Barrasso of Wyoming, the panel’s top Republican, told Granholm that Biden’s green push is increasing concerns in rural states that coal, oil and gas workers risk losing their jobs in the transition.
The hearing happened days after Biden canceled a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline to bring oil from Canada. Earlier on Wednesday, the president issued more executive orders on curbing climate change including pausing new oil and gas leases on federal land.
“These people feel like they’ve been left behind,” Manchin said about workers in fossil fuel industries. The energy transition must be about innovation, not elimination of jobs, he said. Granholm has a “golden opportunity,” if people can be transitioned into new jobs where they live, he said. “Energy is the biggest thing that can heal us and bring us together … because it has quite divided us too,” Manchin said.
Granholm said oil, gas and coal would still be part of the U.S. energy mix despite a Biden administration goal for the country to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
She added that Michigan created a “No Worker Left Behind” program when she was governor that helped them get new jobs. And the Biden administration, she said, has pledged to commit 40% of the benefits of the clean energy transition to communities that have been left behind.
Clean energy technologies could represent a $23 trillion global market by 2030, Granholm said, apparently citing a recent report by the International Finance Corporation.
Granholm would be the second female U.S. energy secretary after Hazel O’Leary served in the Clinton administration in the 1990s.
Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, asked Granholm about opportunities for mining rare earth and other minerals that are used in advanced batteries, and wind and solar power. Granholm said “we can mine in a responsible way” and that she supports the industry for the jobs and energy security it provides.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Stephen Coates and Marguerita Choy)