In the history of the United States, no presidential Cabinets have ever matched the gender or racial balance of the country. But America could soon see its most diverse Cabinet ever—with the first Native American secretary of the interior; first Latino homeland security chief; first openly gay Cabinet member and more. In two departments—Treasury and Intelligence—there has never been a woman in charge … until now. Altogether, Biden has announced 12 women in his Cabinet, the most ever.
To celebrate the historic number of women and women of color in Biden’s Cabinet, media thought leader Pat Mitchell is kicking off a new series: “Table for 12,” which will appear on PatMitchellMedia.com—and be republished here at Ms.—every week!
This Week: Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Energy
Former Governor of Michigan Jennifer Granholm is the nation’s new Secretary of Energy. The Senate approved her nomination on Feb. 25 by a vote of 64-35, with all Democrats and 14 Republican senators voting yes.
After her confirmation, Granholm tweeted her thanks to senators saying:
“I’m obsessed with creating good-paying clean energy jobs in all corners of America in service of addressing our climate crisis. I’m impatient for results.
Now let’s get to work!″
Granholm will be getting to work immediately, helping President Biden carry out his ambitious green energy plan, which proposes to spend $2 trillion over four years on clean energy projects and end carbon emissions from power plants by 2035. The Department of Energy will play a key role in phasing the U.S. off of fossil fuels and setting new energy efficiency standards for appliances, other equipment and buildings.
Chief among her responsibilities is overseeing the department’s 17 scientific labs. She is also responsible for maintaining and securing the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile. More than half of the DOE budget is dedicated to the National Nuclear Security Administration.
A First in Michigan
Granholm was the first woman to be elected governor of Michigan in 2002. During her two terms, Granholm dealt directly with the economic devastation brought on by the 2008 financial crisis. She fought hard to save the auto industry in her state, securing a “whopping $1.35 billion in federal funding for companies to make electric cars and batteries in her state.” She also created a successful ‘No Worker Left Behind’ training program for displaced manufacturing workers.
“Granholm’s work as governor of Michigan showed that it is possible to shift from traditional manufacturing to a clean energy economy without leaving workers behind,” Todd Wolf, senior Washington representative for the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told The Detroit Free Press that Granholm “has been a fierce advocate for clean energy for decades.” During her time as governor, Whitmer said Granholm tried to “build a more sustainable state, and focused Michigan’s economic recovery from the Great Recession on clean energy, which helped push national markets towards renewable technologies. She’s well suited to ensure that our economic recovery from COVID-19 prioritizes clean energy.”
Granholm is an immigrant. Born in Canada, she moved to California with her family at the age of four, and became a naturalized U.S. citizen at 18. She is a graduate of Harvard Law School and she served as Michigan’s attorney general from 1998 to 2002. She became the first woman elected governor of Michigan in 2002 and was re-elected to a second term in 2006.
“My father was born in a log cabin with no running water,” she recalled. Unable to find work, her paternal grandfather committed suicide when her father was only 3 years old, leaving her grandmother with three young children in abject poverty. At the age of 11, her father got a job at a sawmill and, she said, “he never stopped working.”
“My hardworking, gentle father got the fair chance he was looking for in America. He had started out as a bank teller, and he retired as head of the bank. It is because of my family journey, and my experience fighting for hard-working Michigan families, that I have become obsessed with seizing the opportunities that a clean energy future will provide for Americans.”
Money on the Table
Granholm could have a big effect quickly at the department, reports NPR. According to Arjun Krishnaswami, policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, “there’s about $40 billion available for loans and loan guarantees to promote clean energy technologies. That’s money the Trump administration, for the most part, chose not to spend.”
Biden’s “climate team” includes four women in nine posts: Granholm, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (awaiting confirmation), National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy, and Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality Brenda Mallory.
“This brilliant, tested, trailblazing team will be ready on day one to confront the existential threat of climate change with a unified national response rooted in science and equity,” Biden said in a statement.
In a 2013 TED talk, Granholm shared her vision for fighting climate change and creating new jobs. Every region of the country, she says, has something to offer. She believes that cultivating public-private partnerships will help bring clean energy solutions to scale.
“If you are impatient like I am, you know that our economic competitors, our other nations, are in the game and are eating us for lunch. And we can get in the game or not. We can be at the table or we can be on the table. And I don’t know about you, but I prefer to dine.”
Secretary Granholm, a heartfelt feminist welcome to the table!