March 19, 2021

Jennifer Granholm

Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm tells Margaret Hoover how the Biden administration plans to achieve clean energy goals, create new jobs and protect the power grid while facing questions about the price tag and the politics in Washington.

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A power player in the new administration this week on ‘Firing Line.’

We’re not going to sit idly by as other countries eat us for lunch.
We can be at the table or we can be on the menu.

As President Biden’s Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm’s wide-ranging portfolio includes clean energy, green jobs and keeping the nation’s nuclear stockpile safe.

Climate change is upon us, and these weird weather events will continue to happen.

The first woman to serve as governor of Michigan…
44 men have passed through before me.
[ Cheers and applause ]
…and only the second female energy secretary.

I, Jennifer Granholm…
She’s pushing a bold plan to transform how we power the nation and put Americans to work.
But with questions about the price tag and the politics…
What am I to tell my constituents that are depending on this?

I want to work with you to make sure that people remain employed.

What does Secretary Granholm say now?

‘Firing Line with Margaret Hoover’ is made possible in part by… And by… Corporate funding is provided by…
Secretary Granholm, welcome to ‘Firing Line.’

Thank you.
Glad to be on.

President Biden and Vice President Harris are traveling the country this week to promote a $1.9 billion COVID-relief legislation.
One provision that I’ve heard you tout of this legislation is the child tax credit, which actually has broad support across the philosophical spectrum.
There are even conservatives who support this.
One conservative, Michael Gerson, a speechwriter for George W. Bush, wrote that, ‘For many parents, a child allowance will be a functional equivalent to a school voucher,’ and this is why he supports it.

What is your reaction to the bipartisan nature of the child tax credit?

Well, first, I’m so glad that there’s bipartisan support for it, because, as you know, it goes till December, and that it ends.
And so the question is, should there be something that carries on like there are in so many other countries?
But let me just say, Margaret, this issue of the child tax credit is so — especially as it comes every month for families that are really struggling.
And I say this because I’ve been mentoring a young woman — she’s 30 years old now — since she was 8 years old.
She is a single mother now of two young kids, and she lives in rural Georgia.
Brittany makes $9 an hour working full-time with two kids.
She doesn’t have a car.
She has to pay for their childcare when she goes to work.
That childcare, cheap as it is, for her — for her, it’s hugely expensive.
It’s about $120 a week.
When you consider what she takes home, which is about $1,000 a month, she pays half of her salary just in childcare.
And then, when you — You got rent, she doesn’t qualify for food assistance because she works full-time.
We want to encourage people to work full-time.
I mean, it is so hard for her and millions of people like her who have kids who are just trying to keep it together.
If there’s an emergency, forget about it.
She’s got high blood pressure.
Her oldest child has sickle-cell anemia.
To go to the doctor for her, she has to take time off work.
And because she is just paid hourly, she has lousy healthcare, and she has a $90 co-pay.
So all I’m saying is that this kind of help will lift kids out of poverty.
What an amazing statement about America that this is happening.

Well, next up, we thought would be infrastructure, but President Biden has recently said that next step will actually be tax increases.
Can you give us any insight?
Will that be part of an infrastructure bill?

I certainly think that there’s a lot of people who want to make sure that it’s paid for, at least partially, if not fully, in some way.
I do think that he’s thinking about that, too.
And the best way to do that, he’s talked about on the campaign trail, taking back some of the Trump tax cuts for the wealthiest so that people like Brittany and middle-class folks, too, are not bearing the brunt of it.
I mean, I think everybody wants to make sure we have an investment in our nation’s infrastructure.
And I think for that, too, Margaret, I think you’d agree there is bipartisan support.

For the President who, you know, mentioned unity eight times in his inaugural address, and while he wasn’t able to garner a single Republican vote in his first major piece of legislation, to move to tax increases next, is that the best move if you’re really working to bring the country back together?

Well, if you have bipartisan support on both resolving the COVID crisis and on investing in our nation through infrastructure and on making sure that it’s paid for, why — and my guess is, if you looked at across the country like we saw with the COVID relief bill, you saw 70% support, you saw majority support of Republicans.
So the question is, does ‘bipartisan’ just mean what’s inside the Washington Beltway or is it —
I think it means Republican votes.

Well, I mean, yes.
And, hopefully, they listen to their constituents.
But if they, for whatever reason, for political reasons, are deciding that they want to stick on just saying no, then Joe Biden is not gonna sit around and wait when there are needs that must be addressed.
And I think — And I think, in a bipartisan way, the citizens of this country would agree with him.

According to the Tax Foundation, Biden’s proposal to increase the corporate tax rate and tax long-term capital gains and qualified dividends at ordinary income tax rates would increase the top integrated tax rate on corporate income above pre-Tax Cuts and Jobs Act levels, making it the highest in the OECD.’
That’s a proposal that Senate leadership on the Republican side, the Senate minority, has already indicated that they’re not willing to support.

Well, I would say this.
He is going to put forward a plan, a comprehensive plan that invests in our nation and moves the economy forward.
The business community, the Chamber of Commerce, they’re all saying we have to invest in our nation.
And people complain when you don’t pay for it because you rack up deficits.
People complain when you do pay for it because somebody might have to pay for something.

That’s fair.

But if you look at the amount of money we spent on the tax cuts under the Trump administration, the same Republicans who might be complaining now didn’t — weren’t complaining back then.
So, bottom line is, he’s gonna put something forward that allows us to invest in our nation and to help pay for at least a good chunk of it and to do so in a way that does not hurt real people.
And I think that’s really healthy for an economy.

Let’s just go to infrastructure.
If we were going to wave a magic wand in an infrastructure bill, as the Energy secretary, if you could pick one thing that would absolutely be in an infrastructure bill that would help secure the energy future of this country, what would be your top policy priority?

Honestly, I think we’ve got to do three things.
I’m sorry to —
Do three.
I was gonna say three anyway.

[ Laughs ] We have to expand the capacity of the grid because we want to add clean energy to the grid.
And if we’re going to have electrified vehicles, et cetera, we want to expand the capacity.
We want to increase the resiliency of the grid so what happened in Texas — Now, Texas, of course, is separate from the rest of the grid.
I would say part of resiliency is offering — an offer to Texas to say, ‘Hey, at least connect with the rest of the country so that when you’re in trouble, we can come to your aid.’
But that’s just one piece of resiliency.
We have to harden the wires so that whether it’s in Texas or in the hurricane area of the country or wildfires, that we’ve got to make sure that the grid is resilient in that way.
And we have to make sure that we have reliable power.
So we’ve got to add not just capacity, in terms of transmission wires, but additional power to the grid so that it is reliable.
So all of that has to happen.
All of those are our priorities.
And I would say one other thing that’s super important is making sure that it’s resilient as well from cyber attacks.

Okay. So let’s take all three of those.
Because I think all of them are really important.
I’d love to get just a better sense of how you’re thinking about each of them.
General Motors, which received a bailout when you were governor of Michigan —
And paid it back.

Yes, and paid it back.
Is pledging an all-electric future.
You are a very proud Chevy Volt driver.

Chevy Volt!

[ Chuckles ] We know that you’ve driven in a and Mach-E, a Mustang Mach-E, and the Biden administration has also committed to have a fully electric federal fleet.
What do we need to do to the grid in order to support a country full of electric cars?

Yeah, we have to add.
We have to add infrastructure to the grid, add wires.
I mean, right now, I mean, it’s been such a pain in the neck for over — for decades that we have pieces of transmission across the country that have holes and gaps in it.
So, for example, in Wyoming and in the windiest states, energy resources from wind.
But the transmission is not up to snuff, in terms of taking that wind resource and bringing it to areas of high population.
So we’ve got to make sure that all areas of the country are able to add capacity and receive capacity.
So that has to happen, and that means adding infrastructure and that means building additional transmission lines, and that means jobs when you do that.
The second thing, though, is to make sure that we’ve got, for example, on the electric-vehicle side, we’ve got charging infrastructure.
You’ve got to want to be able to plug in your car if you’re traveling across the country.
Most people have the ability, if they have a house, to plug in in their garage with just a three pronged plug and let it charge overnight.
But we need to build up our charging infrastructure.
People who live in apartment buildings may not have access to that and people who are traveling long distances.
Right now, the battery on my — On my Chevy Volt, I can go almost 200 miles without charging, and that’s perfectly fine for me as I’m going from place to place.
But if I were to go across country, I’d want to make sure that there were charging stations so that I could charge up, and that’s part of the plan from Joe Biden to both create jobs and to electrify our fleet.

So, right now, there is concern among some that while electric cars need power, there are some places in the country, as you know, Madam Secretary, where the grid is mostly powered by a combination of burning coal and natural gas.
So, carbon is produced in order to make energy that powers electric cars in many parts of the country.
Do you worry that people don’t know that electric cars, in all cases, aren’t as green as they think?

Well, I mean, this is why we have to add clean energy to the grid, and that is happening over time.
But what you really want is for your car to be powered by sunshine.
I mean, I have — I lease my Chevy Volt, and I lease solar panels on my house, and I don’t have to pay a dime for gasoline.
And every bit of the power I use to drive my car is clean.
So I drive on sunshine.
That that’s the kind of thing we would like to see everywhere.
It’s still much better for the — for CO2 emissions, for greenhouse gas emissions.
Even if your car is powered by coal, it’s still much better for the air because your car itself is not producing emissions.
Nonetheless, we do want to add gigawatts, hundreds of gigawatts of clean power to the grid so that people really are not contributing to this greenhouse gas emission problem, which creates climate change.

You have said that President Biden picked you to be the energy secretary because you’re ‘obsessed with creating…’

‘…good-paying jobs in America.’
And you do have a very personal story which connects you to the Great Depression and the suicide of your grandfather because of desperate economic times, so we know that it’s authentic and deeply felt for you.
You are vowing clean-energy jobs.
Tell me, Madam Secretary, how does vowing clean-energy jobs impact oil and gas and coal jobs that are at risk right now?

This is a great question.
First of all, coal, the coal jobs, regardless of any policy, the globe is moving the planet.
Demand for energy is all moving green.
And so you’ve seen all of these coal plants shut down.
Even during the Trump administration when he proclaimed support for coal, he couldn’t do anything about the market forces that were causing coal plants to shutter.
So here’s an example.
In Wyoming, huge wind state, huge coal state.
There have been six plants, coal plants, that have shut down over the past bit of time.
I want to say the past few years.
What they are doing, though, like in Carbon County, Wyoming, they have put up one of the country’s largest wind farms.
So being able to build the wind turbines, to maintain the wind turbines, to be able to get clean energy from the turbines, the number of jobs that are created in this clean-energy space far outweigh the number of jobs that are in the fossil-fuel industry.
Now, that’s coal.
You also have natural gas.
The great thing about the Department of Energy is that we are the solutions place.
So, we are, in our national labs across the country, researching the ways to remove carbon from natural gas, from oil, from coal.
We want to deploy the technologies that will be able to get us to the goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, which is Joe Biden’s goal.
And we’ve got the technology to be able to do that.
So those are jobs, too, retrofitting plants, either natural gas or coal, with technology that removes carbon, is an opportunity not just to keep jobs but also to create jobs.
And let me just say that, if we create opportunities for clean and green natural gas, green hydrogen, you are building pipelines, you are putting people to work whose skills are commensurate with the skills that they had in the previous job that they had.
They might be electricians, they might be plumbers, pipe layers — you’ve got huge number of jobs that are available in this clean-energy economy, all kinds of jobs for all kinds of people in all pockets of the country, and that’s super exciting.

It’s exciting as a prospect in the future, but it’s not something that exists for the oil workers right now.

Oh, no, it does.
It absolutely does.

Okay. So what does that mean then for the green economy?
It requires workers who are 40 or 50 years old to move to new regions of the country.

No, no, no.
Right where they are.
I mean, if you look at — For example, let’s just take — take West Virginia, a coal place.
The technology that exists right now for what is known as ‘carbon capture use and sequestration’ — I know it’s a big mouthful — but it basically removes carbon and sequesters it underground.
West Virginia, a great place for geothermal.
They sit on top of a geothermal hot spot.
What is geothermal?
It means pulling clean energy from the ground.
In mining places, we need minerals to be able to produce batteries for electric vehicles.
Right now, we get these minerals — they’re critical minerals — we get them from places that are under China’s thumb.
Well, we should be producing the means for our own energy independence in the United States by responsibly mining for the minerals that will allow us to build the whole battery supply chain.
You’ve heard recently about the loss of semiconductor — semiconductors in the United States because we don’t have access to the critical materials.
One of the minerals in silicon, for example, we should be mining that.
We should be doing that process in the United States instead of allowing our economic competitors to eat us for lunch.
So those strategies, those opportunities, this is what we’re talking about, creating a full supply chain to be able to build our own energy independence and create jobs.

As the daughter of a mining engineer, you’re singing my song.

All right!

Listen, tackle some of the criticisms about the green jobs economy.
You were governor of Michigan and pursued policies that would have created a vast number of green jobs in your state, especially around battery-powered cars, the battery industry.
Some would say, you know, lofty goals that didn’t fully come to fruition.
So what do you say to naysayers who think that a green economy is a chimera, right?
That these are lofty ideas that have not come to fruition in the past, particularly in your own state.
How is this going to happen now at a national level?

Yeah, I would say look at Michigan right now.
I mean, we’ve got General Motors that has pledged to build a 100% electric vehicle.
When we were going through the challenges to the auto industry, the bankruptcies, et cetera, we were looking at, ‘How do we diversify in our state?’
which has been so reliant on building a car with an internal-combustion engine, which is, of course, powered by gasoline.
How do we build — Since we built car 1.0, how can we build car 2.0?
And that means the guts to car 2.0, which is the battery for that electric vehicle.
So we went about establishing policies to do that.
And today, 1/3 of all North American battery production is in Michigan.
Michigan is leading the domestic automakers, in terms of —
But to be fair —
We created jobs.

While it’s true that 1/3 of batteries produced in North America are made in Michigan, it’s less than 3% of the global production of electric-vehicle batteries.

That’s a great point.
It’s a great point.
This is what the Biden administration is doing is saying, ‘We are not going to let our economic competitors scoop this market up and us just passively sit by.
We’ve got to get in the game.
And so if we do that, that means we have to support, as a nation, that supply-chain effort to build — to build responsible mining facilities in the United States so we can have the lithium that’s necessary for lithium-ion batteries, the cobalt that’s necessary for these batteries.
We need to build the whole soup-to-nuts infrastructure.
We allowed Asia to take all of this battery production, and we, you know, sat around.
So it wasn’t until the — it wasn’t until, frankly, the Recovery Act, where a bunch of grants came forward, which allowed us to at least get a foothold in this battery space.
We need to continue to do it.
And, frankly, the demand for electric vehicles 10 years ago was not as high as it is now.
And now we’re seeing the globe really come on board.
So you have to move the demand for the product along the same path as the supply for the product, and when you get those two together, that’s when you really create an industry.
And by the way, Margaret, just quickly, studies have shown in the next 10 years, $23 trillion of global demand for products that are going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
So who’s going to get those jobs?
Are we going to sit by, or are we going to get in the game?
And Joe Biden is getting in the game.
This administration is getting in the game.
And that’s what’s so exciting for the Department of Energy because we are ready to fight.

The Energy Department’s also planning on reviving a guaranteed loan program that began under President Obama for clean-energy innovation.
$40 billion is potentially up for grabs.
And you cite Elon Musk of Tesla as a high-profile success.
Of course, as you know, the critics also cite Solyndra, a failed solar company that then Vice President Biden actually announced on behalf of the administration in 2009.
How do you, especially using your experience as as governor of Michigan, having overseen some successes and some failures, how do you ensure that there are more Teslas and fewer Solyndras?

If you never — If you’re at the plate and you never swing, you’re never gonna hit.
So we got to take some swings, and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
Hopefully, you create more opportunities for winners than losers.
And believe it or not, this loan program’s office has returned $500 million to the American taxpayer because they have invested in a lot of winners and a couple of losers.
So, come on, folks!
Are we going to get in this or not?
If somebody is developing technology that needs to be taken to scale, and because it’s new, the banks aren’t coming in to loan, then the government can create a public-private partnership which enables that technology to be taken to scale, and that’s the story of Tesla, that’s the story of concentrated solar efforts that we did for utility-scale solar.
I’m just saying that we’ve got to decide that we are going to help these companies to be successful.
This is a loan programs office.
It’s not grant money.
It is a loan guarantee.
So they’re guaranteeing the loan of a bank so that these entrepreneurs can get their ideas out.
And it’s a huge tool in our arsenal, our economic quiver, to be able to get these technologies to market.

Listen, let me ask you about gas prices, Madam Secretary, because a lot of Americans are noticing that the price has gone up more than 35 cents a gallon over the last month.
It’s now at $2.86, and experts are saying that the rise in gas prices is due directly to the COVID restrictions being eased but supply remaining tight.
Are gas prices going to keep going up as Americans get vaccinated?

Yeah, I mean, it certainly could happen.
We know that gas prices are often as much a result of geopolitical efforts as they are what’s going on in the United States.
I mean, our effort at the Department of Energy is to really alleviate the need to rely upon gasoline, in many instances, or at least to help clean the process up for extraction of oil and gas.
And electric vehicles, not only do you not have to rely upon gasoline, but it saves you about $600 per year in maintenance because there are so many fewer parts.
So all I’m saying is, I completely understand the pocketbook issues, the cost issues, but we want to make it easier for people to actually be driving on sunshine in a much cheaper way through electric vehicles, where the battery costs have come down and the affordability has been made very apparent through incentives.

You spoke earlier in the program about the need to create new power.
I’d like to ask you about the role that nuclear power might play as an energy source.
And Bill Gates has said recently that he is putting his own money behind nuclear power.
He said last month that nuclear power will absolutely be politically acceptable again.
In 1979, on ‘Firing Line,’ William F. Buckley Jr. discussed the nuclear future with his guests, both nuclear physicists.
I’m gonna show you a clip right now.
Take a look.

Why can’t we have a lot more nuclear technology, or are there sort of inherent limits?
Obviously, they won’t run cars, for instance, which accounts for 26% of our total energy consumption, but they will do everything else, won’t they?
They will heat houses, operate plants or not?

They can and so forth.
But these are much more complex questions…
Could they replace coal altogether?
Assuming that were your mandate.

Certainly, nuclear could replace coal altogether.
I think that would be a fair statement.

And if we did it on a crash basis, could this happen in, say, 15 years?

Well, we’d have to do a lot of changing of people’s thinking, but you certainly could.

All right.
Well, that was 40 years ago, not 15 years ago.
There is an emerging consensus around nuclear now in this country, after many, many years.
Will we see new nuclear power plants licensed and built as part of a green-energy strategy in the Biden administration?

Yes, I think you will.
In fact, I think there will be some new nuclear coming online in the next couple of years that have been financed by the Department of Energy.
I want people to understand that nuclear is an important baseload power.
It is 100% clean.
And when these — Especially the research that’s being done now with the smaller, modular nuclear reactors, which are — you know, which have more flexibility, there’s some very exciting technical — technical advancements that are being made to be able to make nuclear more affordable and without — You know, clearly the issue of nuclear waste remains and what we do with that, and, obviously, there’s gonna have to continue to be a lot of discussions about that, but the power itself, especially in the U.S., the regulations that are here, it is safe, it is clean, and we should be building more.

Well, Secretary Granholm, thank you for coming to ‘Firing Line.’
Thank you for sharing with us about your plans for the Energy Department and the Biden administration’s energy policy.

You bet. Glad to be on.
Thanks so much, Margaret.
Really appreciate it.

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