Granholm vs. GOP on lost fossil fuel jobs. Who’s right?

Source: By Lesley Clark, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, March 4, 2021

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm yesterday sought to dispel fears that a push for clean energy would jeopardize jobs as conservatives questioned the administration’s plan to tackle climate change.

At both a virtual conference for oil and gas executives and on ABC’s show “The View,” Granholm insisted there will be opportunities for workers as a result of a transition to low-carbon energy.

“There are so many jobs in this clean energy space that have skills that are commensurate with the skills that they used in previous jobs,” Granholm said as “The View” co-host Meghan McCain asked her what she’d say to worried workers. “We should be able to put people to work doing things that are similar to the skills they had.”

Earlier, Granholm told a conference audience at CERAWeek by IHS Markit that the drive to a net-zero economy by 2050 will create a “heck of an economic opportunity.” Appealing directly to oil, gas and coal sectors, she said “it would be great to have partners in making it a successful transition.”

The administration has faced criticism that its emphasis on green energy could cause job upheaval.

Earlier this year, White House climate envoy John Kerry spurred attacks from Republican lawmakers like Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark) when he suggested that oil and gas workers could turn to making solar panels. The comments also prompted a two-Pinocchio rating from a fact-checker in The Washington Post

Yesterday, Meghan McCain, the daughter of the late John McCain, brought up Kerry’s remarks and added that she thought Biden, too, “was a little tone-deaf when he told coal miners who will lose their jobs to simply ‘learn to code.'” Biden made the comments on the campaign trail in 2019.

Unions have noted that coal, oil and gas workers can make as much as $80,000 or $100,000 per year, with overtime. By contrast, the average solar installation job paid $45,000 a year in 2019, a bit less than the average salary for wind energy technicians, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The American Petroleum Institute also wrote on Twitter yesterday that while Granholm is a “way better messenger” than Kerry, “it’s weird how Admin surrogates can just casually promise to create millions of jobs & it’s simply accepted at face value.”

At CERAWeek, Granholm vowed that a move to low-carbon energy would bring “millions of jobs — union jobs, with good pay and good benefits for all.

“By scaling up these emerging technologies, we’re going to put people in construction, skilled trades, and engineering to work building a new American energy economy, and help those in the coal, oil, and gas industries translate their skills to new clean energy jobs,” she said.

She offered some alternatives, suggesting oil and gas workers could work on geothermal energy and coal workers could engage in the recovery of critical minerals used in batteries. She said there would also be work for electricians in installing electric vehicle charging stations and for workers in capturing methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Granholm, who was governor of Michigan as the state and auto industry were hammered by recession, added she wasn’t going to “sugarcoat how hard transitions are.”

“The bottom line is this particular growth of clean energy and reduction of carbon provides a huge opportunity and I’m extending a hand of partnership,” she said.

She noted Michigan’s auto industry turned out cars powered by fossil fuels, even as it began to see more demand for fuel efficient vehicles. But, she said, it wasn’t until the industry cratered that it began to embrace alternatives.

“We wanted to be the place that built that opportunity,” she said, adding that one-third of all North American electric battery production now takes place in the state. “In times where the market is raising its hand and saying, ‘We’re heading in a direction, you better come along or you’re going to be left behind,’ maybe we should listen.”

The department’s new Office of Energy Jobs will work with the department’s fossil fuel division to “ensure we leave no worker behind,” she said.

Reporter Carlos Anchondo contributed.