Fossil fuel workers will not be left behind in the Biden administration’s push to embrace clean energy. That’s the promise from new Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, addressing workers worried their livelihoods will be disrupted.
“This is our opportunity to build the energy economy back better, in a way that lifts up communities that have felt unseen or abandoned or left behind for too long,” Granholm said Wednesday during her first major speech since being sworn in last week.
The comments highlight a central challenge facing the Biden administration: how to wean America off fossil fuels while preventing widespread job losses in regions that rely on coal, oil and natural gas for employment and tax revenue.
Granholm, the former governor of Michigan, said the Energy Department created a jobs office that will work “hand in glove” with the agency’s fossil fuels officials to make sure “we leave no worker behind.”
“It won’t be easy, but it’s a battle worth waging and I for one am reporting for duty,” Granholm said at the energy conference CERAWeek by IHS Markit.
Echoing comments made by President Joe Biden, Granholm argued the energy transition will create countless new jobs — and she promised to help fossil fuels workers translate their skills to these new positions.
“You need millions of jobs. Union jobs. Good paying jobs. Good jobs with benefits,” said Granholm, a former CNN contributor.
For instance, Granholm said there will be a hiring boom in various areas from building zero-emission buses and upgrading the electric grid to manufacturing carbon capture pipelines and reinforcing existing pipelines to minimize emissions.
“What are we here for if not to give people opportunity and to help save our planet?” Granholm said.
Paris vs. Pittsburgh
But that’s a tough sell for the Biden administration, especially given the devastation of coal country as the power grid has pivoted from coal to natural gas, solar and wind power.
The oil industry and Republicans quickly condemned Biden’s decision in January to rescind the permit for the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline. The move, among Biden’s first executive actions, resulted in the layoff of “thousands of union workers,” according to TC Energy, the Canadian company behind the Keystone pipeline.
Republicans also warned Biden’s Day One decision to reenter the Paris climate accord will result in the loss of jobs at home.
“By rejoining the Paris climate agreement, President Biden indicates he’s more interested in the views of the citizens of Paris than in the jobs of the citizens of Pittsburgh,” Texas Senator Ted Cruz tweeted on Inauguration Day.
The mining jobs of the future
Last week, Granholm and a team of Biden officials held a meeting focused on how the federal government can invest in local coal, oil and gas communities. The group discussed how to deploy grants, federal loans and other programs to “support and revitalize” these communities, according to the White House.
During an appearance Wednesday on ABC’s “The View,” Granholm was pressed about workers becoming collateral damage.
“Retraining programs have a poor record,” View co-host Meghan McCain, said to Granholm. “What do you say to people worried it’ll be hard to put food on the table and people who’ll lose jobs?”
Granholm emphasized there will be many jobs created in the clean energy space, including for miners as the United States attempts to extract critical minerals needed for batteries at home instead of importing them.
“We should be able to put people to work doing things that are similar to the skills that they had before,” Granholm said.