Biden's energy secretary pick faces tough questions on the President's drilling moratorium

By Liz Stark

As President Biden unveils new climate executive actions Wednesday, his pick to lead the Department of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, faced tough questions during her nomination hearing from lawmakers concerned about the impact on American workers. 

GOP Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming pressed Granholm, the former governor of Michigan, about Biden’s climate executive actions.

He asked if the Biden team sought her counsel on last week’s memorandum placing a 60-day moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters. Granholm said she “knew that it was coming,” adding that it was part of Biden’s campaign promise. Asked if she encouraged Biden to issue the action, Granholm said she “didn’t have a specific conversation with him about it myself.”

Pointing to the moratorium’s impact on the economy and jobs, Barrasso asked how this executive action is “consistent” with Biden’s goal of unifying the country and helping the economy grow.

Granholm, who is a former CNN contributor, stressed that “we don’t want to see any jobs sacrificed,” and noted that current licenses “are not going to be disrupted, they will continue to operate.”

Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi also expressed concerns about job loss due to Biden’s executive action pausing new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or offshore waters. 

Asked to respond to Hyde-Smith’s constituents who may lose their jobs, Granholm noted the moratorium on new leases is “prospective and does not apply to those who are currently operating.” 

“The Biden administration is not going to take their jobs away on existing leases,” Granholm stressed.

Some Democratic lawmakers, such as West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, also voiced concerns from his constituents who are worried about the energy transition leaving American workers behind in a state with a long coal-mining tradition. “Right now there are a lot of concerns that we’re hearing coming out of President Biden’s executive orders,” Machin said, adding, “People are very much concerned they’re going to leave us behind again.”

Granholm emphasized, “I cannot tell you how important this is to me personally, is to make sure that we do not leave people behind,” pointing to her experience creating jobs as governor of Michigan.

On job creation, Granholm also said during the hearing that the president has put together “a sort of SWAT team inside of the federal government to focus on communities that have powered America.”