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Energy Sec. Granholm: Focus on renewable energy will protect U.S. ‘manufacturing backbone’

President Biden's infrastructure proposal includes hundreds of billions of dollars to address climate change by cutting emissions and increasing the use of clean energy, which critics say amounts to a version of the Green New Deal proposal released by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., in 2019. Energy secretary Jennifer Granholm joins us to discuss the matter.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Biden's infrastructure proposal includes hundreds of billions of dollars aimed at addressing climate change by cutting emissions and increasing the use of clean energy.

    Conservative critics say it amounts to a version of the Green New Deal.

    Jennifer Granholm is the secretary of energy. I spoke with her a short time ago.

    Secretary Granholm, thank you so much for joining us.

    This infrastructure bill is not only ambitious in the price tag, $2 trillion or more for doing something about crumbling roads and our water systems. It also tackles, in a big way, or attempts to, climate change.

    Explain how addressing climate and what is going to happen to that is connected to infrastructure?

  • Sec. Jennifer Granholm:

    Well, the most obvious is the transmission grid, of course, which is part of our nation's infrastructure, which is very old in many places.

    Can you imagine us today sticking poles in the ground with wires on the top? Many of it was — much of it was built in the 1950s. You saw what happened in Texas last month. And, clearly, that is one example of so many every year where our infrastructure, in this case, our electric infrastructure, fails us.

    So, we need to add both capacity to the electric grid, as well as resiliency to that grid. And that is one of the pieces of this bill.

    And, if I could, just quickly, another one I think is very important that relates to certainly our efforts to have clean energy and zero carbon emissions is the transportation sector and electrifying our roads to be able to allow people who buy electric vehicles to be able to charge up if they are going long distances. And that's another very important piece of our climate — of the climate, to our — the energy infrastructure that is addressed in the bill.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Madam Secretary, the president speaks about this being an effort to catch up with China, that the United States doesn't want China to be ahead when it comes to renewable energy.

    But what exactly does that mean? I'm looking at what you said recently. You said: "Our economic competitors are eating us for lunch."

    What exactly is it that China and other countries are doing that the United States wants to change?

  • Jennifer Granholm:

    This is the key question, Judy.

    We, as a nation, have bowed to alter of low-cost globally. And when we do that, we give away our manufacturing backbone. So, we used to manufacture solar panels in this country. We don't anymore, because China came in, had as a strategy that it was going to get the global economic corner on making solar panels. This is true with batteries for electric vehicles.

    It is true Asia has got the corner on the market on semiconductors. We have stood idly by and allowed our economic competitors to basically take the market from us, and that means taking jobs from us.

    And what this president is saying is, is, no more. That is not going to happen. We're going to manufacture the means to our energy security in this country, to our national security in this country. We're going to make things in America.

    Why should we be putting out all this effort to have clean energy, but buy our windmills from Denmark? Why should we be buying the means to put solar panels on our roofs from a country that human rights violations? Even the guts to the batteries that are in the electric vehicles, they have got critical materials in them that we have in this country, but we are allowing other countries to corner the market on those materials.

    It's just — it's not an economic strategy that is a winning strategy for our people or our nation or our security. And that's what this bill addresses.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we're already hearing criticisms, as you know, from Republicans coming at it from several different perspectives.

    A number of Republicans are saying, wait a minute, we are for doing something about infrastructure, about roads and bridges and water systems, but dealing with climate, that's something else, that ought to be separate from this.

    How do you answer that?

  • Jennifer Granholm:

    Well, first of all, every one of the Republicans that I have spoken to believe that we have to invest in our electric grid, that we need to make it more resilient, that we have to make sure that it is not us susceptible to cyber attacking, that we have to expand the capacity.

    They all say that. They all tell you that. Every one of them wants to see us invest in the means to our own security. And that means doing critical materials, mining responsibly critical materials that go into the batteries in this country. That means making sure that we manage the fossil fuel emissions, the carbon, the CO — carbon dioxide emissions responsibly, and that means investing in the technology that reduces the CO2 footprint of the fossil fuel industry.

    They all want to see us invest in that. They all want us — to see us invest in research and development in that. They will tell you that. I have testified. They have test — they have responded: We need to do this. We must invest in critical materials.

    So, all of these pieces are things that Republicans and Democrats have all said we must do. Now, maybe they don't like it lumped into one bill. And maybe it's got to be done in a slightly different way. But there is so much in this bill, Judy, that Democrats and Republicans have said that they would like to see.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let me read you another criticism. This is coming from Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who's on the House energy committee.

    And she says — among other things, she says, the president, she said, is — Democrats — jamming through a massive expansion in federal bureaucracy and government control.

  • Jennifer Granholm:

    Well, let's just say this. First of all, nobody's jamming anything, because the president has said he wants — he's inviting Democrats and Republicans to the table.

    He called Mitch McConnell. We're all calling the people who are responsible for our respective committees. I have talked to Democrats and Republicans. This is not a jam. This is an open hand. Come to the table, tell us what you like, tell us what you would change, get your piece of the bill inside of this. He wants to negotiate. So, that's number one.

    Number two, when you think about this, big government bureaucracy, when you invest in infrastructure, it's not generally government employees that are out there paving the roads or building the bridges or putting up the transmission systems. Those are all private contractors.

    So, it's the government that funds the private sector to be able to do this work for all of us, for the benefit of the nation. So, it's not an expansion of bureaucracy. It's an expansion of economic opportunity and jobs for America.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it's not just Republicans, but it's others in the corporate sector, people who represent the people who hold these jobs, who say that, when you do make the change from the fossil fuel industry, fossil fuel, whether it's working at a plant or dealing in oil and natural gas, and you move to renewable energy, wind, solar electric vehicles, you're talking about many fewer jobs.

    And they say that is a central problem with what the administration is trying to do.

  • Jennifer Granholm:

    Yes, actually, there are many more jobs in this clean energy realm than there have been in the fossil fuel industry and the — but it is so true that we don't want to see people hurt, people who have built this nation and powered our nation.

    So, what this bill does is allow us to manage our carbon dioxide emissions. So, the president has a goal of getting to net zero carbon dioxide for this country by 2050. And that means that we have got to figure out ways to clean up our fossil fuel industry.

    And even the fossil fuel industry itself is doing this. But what the Department of Energy does, through our national labs system — we have 17 fantastic national labs, and they're all working on solutions to reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

    One of the ways for example, is a process called carbon capture and sequestration. I know it's a mouthful, but it is the way to be able to clean up emissions from power plants. And it's the way to be able to produce the products, the technology that you attach to those plants to be able to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and put people to work.

    And this bill allows us to begin to put people to work in making sure we have clean power in this country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it's a big bill, and the debate is just beginning.

    The secretary of energy, Jennifer Granholm, thank you very much.

  • Jennifer Granholm:

    You bet. Thanks so much, Judy.

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