US Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm – A Brief Biography
Published 03 March 2021
by David Stent, Content Manager, Energy Council
Jennifer Granholm will become only the second woman to take charge of the United States Department of Energy, an appointment keenly watched as the country pivots toward a cleaner, greener future. The selection by President Biden is a shrewd choice in selecting the former Michigan governor and UC Berkley professor, known for her ambitious embrace of industrial transitions.
Born in Vancouver, Canada in 1959 it would be a short four years until her parents, two bank tellers, had decided to emigrate to the warmer coastline in California. Jennifer Granholm skipped between high schools and briefly entertained a short career as an actor after graduation. However, it was her time working for the independent Presidential candidate, John B. Anderson in 1980, where she would set her sights on a career in politics, beginning with an undergraduate degree in Political Science at University of California, Berkley.
Following an illustrious academic career at Harvard Law School, Granholm rose through the ranks as an attorney prior to being promoted to the position as an assistant US Attorney, a position where she would make a name as a merciless prosecutor – losing just three out of 154 cases brought to trial.
By 1998, Jennifer Granholm was well established as a state attorney and corporation counsel in Michigan, rising steadily to become the first woman attorney general of Michigan.
This is not how she sought to be known, as she told the Ludington Daily News during her campaign:
“I don’t want to be known as the woman candidate, necessarily, because I want to be known as the qualified candidate. I’ve worked really hard to get the credentials I’ve got and to do what I’ve done. I didn’t work really hard to become a woman. That kind of just happened.”
Four years later in 2002, despite seeking election in a ‘deep Red’ state, Granholm pipped her challenger to become the first woman governor of Michigan. A title she welcomed but also erred against allowing it to define her. As much as she tried, she broke the proverbial glass ceiling faced by women across the world – even in the world’s most developed nation.
The 2008 financial crisis crippled the automotive industry in Michigan, once the heart of American manufacturing, it suffered an extreme decline as the housing market collapsed and industry could not sustain itself. The 2009 bailout secured by Granholm gave the automobile industry a lifeline, including grants to finance a transition to clean energy, battery technology and electric vehicles. By 2010, Michigan led the nation in ‘improvement of job market conditions’.
Her work in transitioning from a state deeply committed to the auto industry into a multi-sector industrial base with a reduced dependency on fossil fuels and, in attracting 40 clean energy companies to the state, 85,000 new jobs were created by 2020. Concurrently under her oversight, the state effectively reduced their budget deficit by $10 billion.
Granholm notably mitigated the loss of technical workers from the state by initiating the ‘No Worker Left Behind’ scheme that sought to pay the tuition of “any unemployed or under-employed citizen to go to community college or technical school to be trained for high-demand jobs. No Worker Left Behind has enrolled more than 136,000 people, with a 75 percent job placement or retention rate – the best results in the nation. Community college enrolment in Michigan has increased by 50 percent this decade”.
Following her governorship, Granholm was a Clean Energy Advisor to Pew Charitable Trusts and served as an adjunct professor at Berkley, as well as being a senior research fellow at the UC Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute (BECI) and the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS). She is considered a leading authority in clean energy policy.
Granholm has faced uphill challenges in each role she has assumed and this is no different, but now she has the wind on her back and a mandate to ignite bold action – how far can she take the US energy transition?
In this role, she has been handed the colossal task of scaling her state successes onto a national stage that can influence international action. Not only does she have the political acumen to obtain cross-party consensus, Granholm has the experience to guide what could be one of the most defining industrial shifts in American history.
Secretary Granholm will be one of the most high-profile women in the US cabinet and yet, Granholm and her peers all excelled at a time when patriarchal systems were not earnestly questioned. They are each role models because they are the best candidates for the job, not because they are the best female candidates.
As Secretary of Energy, she will be placed firmly in the spotlight and if she succeeds as she has so regularly done before – many may tout her for the top job in years to come.
The Women's Energy Council is the only diversity equality energy network operating globally. Download the WEC brochure to discover how you can get involved.