President-elect Joe Biden is apparently prepared to nominate former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm to lead the U.S. Department of Energy, giving the domestic auto industry an influential ally in the new administration’s inner circles.
Granholm’s selection, which hasn’t been announced formally, was kept well below the radar. However, Biden worked with Granholm on the critical effort to rescue General Motors and Chrysler Corp. during the early days of the Obama administration in 2009 when she was in her last term as Michigan’s governor.
As Michigan’s governor, Granholm was a forceful champion of the domestic auto industry and pushed hard to bailout Chrysler at a time when some of Obama’s Wall Street-oriented advisers and others were recommending the company be allowed to fail and its remnants absorbed by other automakers.
Granholm’s advocacy earned her the thanks of the United Auto Workers and her proven track record with union should help bolster the Biden administration’s credibility with blue-collar workers, particularly in the Midwest.
At the same time, she also prodded Detroit’s automakers to adopt new technology.
In addition, Granholm has long been a champion of alternative energy, pushing Michigan’s utilities to develop wind and solar power despite opposition from state Republicans, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and other business leaders, who complained incessantly that the state’s cold, cloudy weather made it impossible to use wind or solar power.
Now Michigan’s two major electric utilities, Consumers Power and Detroit Edison, are in the process of phasing out coal-fired plants.
Granholm’s commitment to alternative energy dovetails neatly with Biden’s own commitment to develop new sources of energy that could gradually wean the U.S. from its dependence on the oil — a commitment Biden defended during his final debate with President Donald Trump before the election.
Under Trump, the DOE had been run by former Texas Governor Richard Perry, who was heavily influenced by oil and gas interests.
According to Politico, the lion’s share of DOE’s budget is revolving around nuclear power and nuclear weapons.
However, it also oversees a network of 17 national laboratories that act as a key resource for the development of new technology and have worked closely with automakers on batteries and electric propulsion and other inventions for use in manufacturing.
Carla Bailo, CEO for the Center for Automotive Transportation in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said during a webinar sponsored by the Alliance for Automotive Innovation it is important that the technology necessary for building and operating electric vehicles be developed in the United States and not drift offshore to China and Europe, which are making major investments in electric vehicles.
While the Trump administration has made a trade a central part of its China policy, the incoming Biden administration is very aware that the U.S. is in a race for new technology with the Peoples Republic of China, according to Chris Krueger, managing director of the Cowen Washington Research Group.
Getting more consumers to use battery electric vehicles will also require a substantial effort to educate consumers about the noted, Michelle Krebs, executive analyst with Autotrader. Up until now, consumers have been reluctant to let go of traditional vehicles, she noted.
Granholm was first elected Attorney General of Michigan in 1998 and served one term before capturing the Democratic nomination for governor in 2002. She was re-elected in 2006, defeating Richard DeVos, the husband of Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.
Since then she has been a law professor at the University of California-Berkeley and a political commentator on CNN.