In mid-December, a news release from U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, confirmed rumors that then-President-elect Joe Biden selected former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to hold the position of his energy secretary. Dingell, a close friend to President Biden and Granholm, spoke powerfully about Granholm’s qualifications, stating that “[she] is the right choice to lead the Department of Energy under the Biden Administration.” Granholm’s profound knowledge on both the positive and negative implications of energy and environmental policy on working families, as well as her expertise in crafting solutions to the United States’ pressing issues, established her as a qualified pick for the position in Biden’s eyes.
As the U.S. Secretary of Energy, Granhold will utilize the Department of Energy’s budget of over $35 billion “to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.” Specifically, she is tasked with mitigating nuclear proliferation and maintaining a secured nuclear deterrent, managing America’s energy supply, facilitating environmental conservation following the Cold War nuclear mission, and overseeing the department’s 17 National Laboratories.
Jennifer Granholm was born on Feb. 5, 1959, in Vancouver, British Columbia. At the age of four, her family immigrated from Canada to California, where she attended school. She graduated from San Carlos High School in 1977. She then proceeded to study at the University of California, Berkeley; she graduated from the university in 1984 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and French. Granholm attended law school at Harvard, where she also was editor-in-chief of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, the foremost progressive law publication in the country. Her progressive education and childhood experiences molded her into a modern-day Democratic candidate. Granholm and her husband, Daniel G. Mulhern, have three children.
Jennifer Granholm first entered the political landscape following her graduation from Harvard Law when she began clerking for Judge Damon Keith of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit from 1997 to 1998. Soon after, Granholm became a federal prosecutor in Detroit in 1990 and was quickly appointed to the Wayne County Corporation Counsel four years later.
In 1998, she successfully ran and was elected to be Michigan’s first female attorney general. In this election, she succeeded 37-year Democratic incumbent Frank J. Kelley and defeated Republican John Smietanka by 52% to 48%. As attorney general, Granholm took action against environmentally detrimental construction, pricing and scanning errors in stores, and terrorism within Michigan.
After serving as Michigan’s attorney general, Granholm ran for governor in 2002 and won again—becoming Michigan’s first female governor on Jan. 1st, 2003. She ran as the favorite in the general election due to her unwavering support from working women, African-Americans, and young voters and based her campaign on her record on crime and charisma. She was later re-elected to her second term in 2006 with the most significant number of votes ever cast for governor in Michigan and served in her position until Jan. 1st, 2011.
Throughout her two terms, Granholm worked to diversify Michigan’s economy that for 100 years had been based entirely on automotive manufacturing. To combat this stagnancy, she fought to add new sectors to Michigan’s economic base, such as college education and clean energy. She launched the Cool Cities Initiative in 2003 to respond to the brain drain of students attending college in Michigan but then finding employment out of the state.
Beyond the economy, Granholm focused her platform around college students by spurring Michigan to double the number of college graduates. To accomplish this, she passed a statewide college prep curriculum for every high school student in Michigan. She launched the No Worker Left Behind program in 2007, a program that provides financial support to unemployed, displaced adults, allowing them to attend a community college or technical schools in the nation. This program enrolled more than 136,000 people and doubled community college enrollment in Michigan by 50%.
From an environmental lens, Granhold has implemented aggressive measures in Michigan that have created 85,000 jobs from the 40 clean energy companies that have selected Michigan in the past year. When giving her sixth State of the State speech in 2008, Granholm spoke on the necessity to create jobs in Michigan through alternative energy companies. She later passed a renewable portfolio standard which requires that 10% of Michigan’s energy must come from renewable sources by 2015 and 25% by 2025.
Following her career in public service in Michigan, Granholm returned to UC Berkeley at the Goldman School of Public Policy and School of Law. She became a senior research fellow at the Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute and a senior advisor to The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Clean Energy Program. She even spearheaded a national clean energy policy campaign that highlights and funs American energy independence and innovation for renewable battery industries. Granholm regularly writes on U.S. energy policy.
On Dec. 17, 2020, President Joe Biden officially announced that he had selected Granholm as his nominee for the U.S. Secretary of Energy. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources ran Granholm’s confirmation hearing in late January, and the Senate later confirmed her in late February by a vote of 64-35.
When confirmed, Granholm stated, “I will focus on three missions: first, the security of America through the National Nuclear Security Administration and clean-up of our Cold War legacy, ensuring that we can protect our nation. Second, supporting the amazing scientific work done at the DOE’s 17 National Labs and other facilities across the country, including climate change and emissions reductions. And third, taking that research to scale, deploying it to create jobs for Americans.”
Under former President Donald Trump, the Department of Energy focused on revitalizing the dwindling coal industry and selling U.S. natural gas abroad—playing a predominantly fossil fuel-based role. On the other hand, Granholm aims to refocus the agency into a climate-fighting powerhouse under the Biden administration, spearheading an ambitious, unprecedented climate plan that will spark a “clean energy revolution” while prioritizing “environmental justice.” The agency is sure to play a role in helping Biden fulfill campaign promises to decarbonize the electric grid by 2035 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
Programs at Granholm’s disposal include a loan program for clean energy projects that has more than $40 billion in authority leftover from the previous administration, as well as set mandatory energy use limits on household energy use.