Building Back Better:
the U.S. Department
Long-term career staffers in the federal government have seen presidential administrations come and go, but if ever a transition between one administration and the next has caused whiplash, it may well be the one that transpired in January of this year. The Department of Energy is one Cabinet-level agency in particular where many of the stated priorities have flipped 180 degrees between the Trump and Biden administrations.
Donald Trump called climate change a hoax invented by China. He summarily pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty that had been adopted by 196 parties to combat climate change. Trump focused his energy agenda on America’s oil, gas and coal industries – even though it is the burning of these fossil fuels, unfortunately, that scientists say is the dominant cause of global warming.
His successor, on the other hand, believes in the urgent need to address climate change. On his first full day in the Oval Office, Joe Biden made a point of rejoining the Paris climate accord. Among other early actions concerning energy and the environment, Biden also announced ambitious goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by half in the next ten years. And he chose former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm to head the Department of Energy.
Granholm had already established a track record in clean energy. She’d turned adversity into advantage when the Great Lake State faced tough times during the 2008 global financial crisis. Detroit’s automakers were about to turn belly-up, but Granholm worked with the Obama administration to support the auto industry and propelled her state into becoming a leader in EV manufacture by expanding incentives for carmakers to develop batteries for electric vehicles. As Governor, she also backed incentives for wind and solar projects and signed a bill that ensured that Michigan would draw at least 10 percent of its energy from renewable resources.
Since Granholm has taken charge at the DOE, she’s been focused on three priorities: combating the climate crisis, creating clean energy union jobs, and promoting energy justice. This latter goal aims to deliver 40 percent of the overall benefits of climate investments to low-income communities and communities of color that historically have been most subjected to polluting industries.
To address the climate crisis, Granholm been hosting clean energy summits modeled after the ambitious moonshot program that led to landing Americans on the moon in 1969. The DOE’s Energy Earthshots Initiative focuses on bringing together key players to figure out how to accelerate breakthroughs in “linchpin” technologies in the quest for clean energy. A Hydrogen Shot Summit took place at the end of August, and committed to a goal of reducing the cost of clean hydrogen by 80 percent within the next decade. The Long Duration Storage Shot happened a few weeks later, and set a target of reducing the cost of grid-scale energy storage by 90% – also within the next decade. The DOE plans to hold half a dozen more Energy Earthshots over the next year.
And by investing in these promising technologies and cultivating public-private partnerships, the Biden administration expects to develop clean energy industries that will support well-paying union jobs, as well as reverse the harmful effects of human activity on our climate.
Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm