Rebuilding Michigan with Clean Energy: A Conversation with Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm

Jennifer Granholm served as the former two-term Governor of Michigan (2003-2010), and Michigan Attorney General (1999-2003). Granholm lead Michigan through unprecedented economic hardships while pioneering clean energy policies and diversifying the state’s economy.

I feel compelled as a Harris policy student to ask what many of my peers have been wondering since the federal government’s shift in policy and in their position on the role of the federal government itself following the 2016 elections: What do you see as the future for young people looking to enter the world of policy and politics who have a commitment to data analysis and more interest in proven results than ideology?

I think that you have to start with policy that is data driven. You have to start with making sure that whatever it is you are recommending has a very solid basis behind it in order to be able to then persuade people behind the scenes to get this passed. When I say behind the scenes, you are not going to talk about the data if you are actually running for office. You may talk about ‘this result works,’ but you are not going to get into the nitty-gritty number crunching or the regression analysis of why a particular policy works. But in order to propose it, you have to make sure that your policy people have done all of that and are successful at finding the best recommendations based upon data. Data is critical, storytelling is critical, and the two may not be the same thing.

As governor you were a big proponent of clean energy and have been one since. Specifically, you have been advocating lately for a ‘clean energy jobs race to the top,’ a kind of state-level clean energy movement. Do you think that a state-driven approach can be as successful as efforts on clean energy in places like Germany and China where the federal government is more supportive of these efforts than our current federal government?

Ideally, you would have the federal government somehow articulate standards that everybody followed because it would make it easier for the business community, who are building the products, to know what their strategy should be. It is hard to have 50 different strategies for 50 different states. But, absent that, I do think that the notion of some kind of progressive federalism where you incentivize the states to take on the kinds of things that the federal government might do and respect them enough to let them make the decision about how they would want to have, what is known as a renewable portfolio standard, a certain threshold of renewable energy in their state —allowing them to make some decision about what that mix is filled with—is a way of being able to say it is not all going to come from the federal government. I really am a big believer, especially now that the federal government is not going to take any action. I am hoping that the private sector will step up to this, especially those who have amassed large sums of money —like Michael Bloomberg or Bill Gates—and have expressed an interest in clean energy. They could do a whole lot to change policy if they challenged the governors by putting a little pot of money on the table and encouraging them to raise their renewable portfolio standards or to adopt energy efficiency standards.

Looking to Michigan specifically, what kind of clean energy and environmentally friendly policies would you like to see to build on the initiatives that you undertook as governor?

I would like to see a continual ratcheting up of the renewable portfolio standard. I would love to see Michigan get to a [standard of] 30 or 40 percent [of electricity production from] renewables by 2040 or 2030. I would love to see them continue down the path of building the batteries for the electric vehicles that I think have a huge impact on transportation emissions. I would like to see the big three automakers lead the nation in making us energy independent—and the batteries for the [electric] vehicles are a way to do that. I would like to see Michigan really be a leader in creating clean energy jobs—and that means building the products, hiring the people and training people for those jobs—to allow them to manufacture stuff and export it from Michigan.

On a similar note, while you were Governor, how much did you consider how strict Michigan’s requirements were relative to neighboring states? Did you worry either about being too strict as to cause trouble or about falling behind to where you are not pushing environmental development as much?   

States are completely competitive with one another. We are always gaging how our neighboring states are doing. For example, I had a legislature that was not so inclined to raise our renewable portfolio standard, so I was always saying to them ‘Ohio has, and Ohio is getting all of these jobs in clean energy as a result of it’ or ‘Wisconsin has, Minnesota has, why can’t we be in league with our Great Lakes colleagues?’ Competition is really important, and it is also really important to create a regional strategy for clean energy jobs. I think when you say ‘strict’ or ‘not strict’ the assumption is there that if you raise [the portfolio standards] somehow it is anti-jobs, but it is really pro clean energy jobs and that is really what we were pushing for—to send that market signal. In fact, General Electric came and testified in our legislature when we were asking for these and they said ‘you gotta raise this standard because I want to be able to sell my products here and I want to know there is a market and a demand. You’ve gotta be at least on par with your regional cohorts to make that happen.’

So, you think states should be doing this as a way to be technology forcing for industry?

As a way of creating demand for clean energy products. You have to have both supply and demand. You cannot put the cart of supply before the horse of demand; you have to have both supply and demand equally. But, if you do not have demand, you are not going to get the supply of those jobs and those products in your state.

This transcript is a joint-publication with the University of Chicago Public Policy Podcasts (UCPPP) and Women in Public Policy (WIPP). The full audio recording of this interview is embedded below and available on Soundcloud and iTunes. 

Christian Myers
"Words, words, words" -Hamlet

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