The federal government will attach "strings" to new research and infrastructure funds to ensure new clean energy jobs will benefit communities suffering from the loss of conventional coal, oil or gas jobs, U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said Thursday.
Granholm touted Michigan's economic pivot to producing electric vehicles and batteries during her tenure as governor, suggesting investment in clean energy infrastructure could do the same for other U.S. communities.
The Biden administration's American Jobs Plan is hard to criticize, according to Ryan Fitzpatrick, director of the climate and energy program at the think tank Third Way, on account of its ambitious and holistic approach to revitalizing jobs, manufacturing and infrastructure.
Energy Secretary Granholm joined the campaign promoting President Joe Biden's American Jobs Plan during a White House press briefing on Thursday afternoon.
The jobs plan calls for an immediate $50 million investment in transportation projects, the expansion of high-speed wireless service to 98% of the nation's residents, and the creation of a $10 billion National Infrastructure Bank to fund additional public works as needed. Granholm, who said she had "looked into the eyes of people who have been desperate and at a loss more times than I can count" as the governor of Michigan, compared the plan's potential to jumpstart clean energy to the turnaround of the Michigan auto industry.
"I was governor when we invested to diversify Michigan's economy to build car 2.0 — which is the electric vehicle, and the guts to that vehicle, the battery," she said. "Now here we are, 12 years later, and GM is saying their entire fleet is going to be electrified. It is a huge distance that we have traveled ... And this is what the American Jobs Plan is all about."
Granholm said she has been "hitting the zoom" to promote the plan, but was awaiting guidance on whether it was safe to travel in person. She also said she believes it is important that 40% of the benefits of the American Jobs Plan go to communities currently being left behind or that have historically borne the heath consequences of fossil energy generation.
The American Jobs Act will target coal, oil and natural gas producing areas with projects to reduce emissions and to deploy carbon capture and hydrogen demonstration projects, Granholm said. Federal funds for these projects, she said, would come with "strings" to ensure they provide good-paying jobs to communities affected by the energy transition.
There are limits to how much the federal government can do to ensure clean energy jobs develop in regions that are losing conventional energy work, according to John Rousakis, an environmental attorney for U.S. lawfirm O'Melveny & Myers. Biofuel production — which Granholm announced on Thursday would receive new research funding from the Department of Energy — may not be geographically compatible with areas where fossil fuels are extracted, for example. But on the whole, Rousakis said, the federal government does have many tools at its disposal to make the 40% goal a reality.
The Biden administration could, through its federal purchasing power, mandate certain employment targets or job training requirements, Rousakis said. The DOE's loan office could also set similar standards, Fitzpatrick said, or the Biden administration could prioritize particular census tracts for competitive grants and tax credits.
Fitzpatrick said he found it hard to criticize the Biden jobs plan, not only because of its goals and ambitions, but also because of the way it is structured, which allows communities to define the future they'd like to create, and then gives them the support needed to realize those goals.
"It's difficult to throw rocks at this plan because it ... takes a holistic approach," he said. "They don't want to just create a new manufacturing facility. They want to align that with a region that has both a need and the resources to succeed in manufacturing, and they want to align that with some of the job training programs that they are creating, so that you have a clear path to succeed."