When University of California, Berkeley, graduate Jennifer M. Granholm became the first female governor of Michigan in 2002, the state's manufacturing base was in the midst of an unprecedented economic meltdown. Governor Granholm, 45, helped turn the economy around through "green jobs," and four years later she was re-elected in a landslide, with the largest number of votes ever cast for governor in Michigan.

Granholm in her office at UC Berkeley; credit: Saul Bromberger and Sandra Hoover

The centerpiece of her strategy to re-tool the state's embattled economy was clean technology, including biofuels. During her tenure, the solar and wind industries added 10,000 jobs, and Michigan led the nation in clean energy patents. After leaving office, Granholm served as an advisor to Pew Charitable Trusts’ Clean Energy Program, where she spearheaded a national campaign for clean energy policies. From her office at UC Berkeley, where she currently serves as Distinguished Practitioner of Law and Public Policy at the School of Law and Goldman School of Public Policy, Granholm talked about her experience as governor and her continuing commitment to renewable energy.

Why did you decide to focus your efforts on clean, renewable technologies?

When I was first elected, Michigan had the highest unemployment rate in the nation because of the loss of manufacturing jobs, and what really became the meltdown in the auto industry. We had to diversify into areas that would enable the existing companies in Michigan to survive. The idea was to build on our strengths instead of pulling something out of thin air -- although I'll admit that we were desperate enough to try that, too. Michigan was already producing one of the most technologically advanced mass-produced products in the world:  the automobile. The goal was to look for opportunities for the automotive industry to begin diversifying into other industries. Clean energy technologies were a perfect fit.

From left, LG Group Chairman Koo Bon-moo, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and LG Chem CEO Peter Bahn-Suk Kim break ground on a new LG Chem plant to manufacture advanced batteries for Chevrolet and Ford electric cars, Thursday, July 15, 2010, in Holland, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

What specific technologies did you decide to focus on?

We looked at every opportunity. Batteries for electric vehicles were a natural choice, of course. But we also looked at solar, at wind, at hydro, and at biomass. Given our traditional manufacturing expertise, there were lots of synergies.  If you want to build a wind turbine, for example, you have to know how to make brake pads and technologies associated with the drive train of a vehicle. We knew how to do that. Michigan has more miles of shoreline than any state in the country other than Alaska -- more than Florida or California -- because of the Great Lakes, so wind and hydro both made sense. Michigan has more acres of publicly owned forestlands than any state in the country because of the Upper Peninsula, so biomass represented an important opportunity.  We have more landfills than anybody, so energy from waste was something else we explored. 

That's a full plate. What specific strategies did you pursue?

Every particular slice of a clean energy economy calls for a different suite of policies. The first thing we had to do was to get the utilities to buy into renewable energy standards in Michigan, and a business model that rewarded them for energy efficiency. That was no easy task. We managed to get a 10 percent renewable portfolio standard signed into law in 2007. It should have been higher, but that's what we were able to get. Then we adopted a huge suite of tax credits and tax incentives for various types of industries, from biomass to wind and solar.  We also created clean energy Centers of Excellence in all of these areas, with partnerships among universities, the government, and the private sector. Our goal was to create economic clusters for specific clean technologies that would encourage innovation and commercialization.

Let’s back up for a moment. Since you were born in Canada, tell us more about your journey to UC Berkeley and your involvement in U.S. politics?

Although I was born in Canada, my family came to the U.S. when I was 4, and I grew up in California. So Berkeley was the natural choice because it was the best of the best. I double majored in political science and French. Like many political science majors, I wanted to change the world.

[But] I did not grow up wanting to run for political office -- far from it. When I was in elementary school I wanted to be a jockey. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a teacher. When I was in law school, I wanted to be a civil rights lawyer. But I have been interested in politics for a long time. My parents are Republicans -- their influence was clear. I actually worked to re-elect Gerald Ford when I was in high school. When I left home, I migrated to working on John B. Anderson's presidential campaign in 1980. Then I found my home in the Democratic Party working for Mondale/Ferraro in 1984 when I was at law school.

Why did you decide to run for office in Michigan?

I ran in Michigan because I married Michigan: My husband was born and raised there. When we met at Harvard Law School, we had the choice of going to either California or Michigan. But California didn't really need any extra help, we felt -- so many people were coming here to do good things. It felt like we could have a greater impact in Michigan.

In 1998, I was elected Attorney General of Michigan. I was the only Democrat elected to a statewide office. So when I decided to run for governor, I received a lot of encouragement. But I also ran against two very powerful political figures -- the last former Democratic governor, Jim Blanchard, and the Democratic Whip in the House of Representatives, David Bonior. Bonior had labor's support. Blanchard had the business community's support. I ran somewhere between them and won. I'm still trying to figure that out!

As governor, what was the biggest challenge you faced?

I had a legislature that was opposed to renewable energy standards. It took a lot of education to get people to understand that it simply made good economic sense for us to generate our own renewable energy instead of importing coal into the state for coal-fired power plants. And it took a lot of education to convince people that this was the way to create new jobs. By 2030, the clean energy sector is forecast to employ 37 million people. Something like one in four jobs will be related to clean energy. I wanted to make sure those jobs would be here.

"Believe me, [states and regions] love competing to be the best. If we had the flexibility and the funding we need, it would let loose a wave of innovation across the country."

Does your experience as governor of Michigan provide useful lessons when it comes to national energy policies?

One crucial lesson is that you've got to have a unified national energy strategy. Every state has something to offer.  But you need a national strategy to make sure that you don't have a lot of unnecessary duplication of efforts. A national strategy would help states identify their strengths and focus on innovations related to those strengths. There are states where it makes sense to focus on solar rather than biomass, or hydro rather than wind. We need policies that encourage the creation of regional economic clusters in states across the country that support clean tech clean energy solutions. The federal government must be a partner in this. Government is uniquely able to think systematically about the entire value chain, creating economic clusters of related companies. And the federal government must play a role because, frankly, the states do not have the resources to compete against China or India. We barely have the resources to compete against each other.

And that's the other reason to have a national policy. We shouldn't be competing against each other. We shouldn't be trying to steal industries and jobs away from other states, which is what's happening now. That's just plain stupid. The goal is for the federal government to provide some sort of incentive for states and regions to work together to develop clean technology expertise for domestic and international markets. I believe in a kind of progressive federalism that allows states to experiment, that stokes experimentation in these laboratories of democracy. Congress is doing nothing. So let's allow the governors to experiment. Believe me, we love competing to be the best. If we had the flexibility and the funding we need, it would let loose a wave of innovation across the country.

Do you think more women should go into politics?

Yes, yes, and yes! The more women in elected office, the saner our politics will become. Not to generalize, but women are pragmatists, just wanting to get things done, not necessarily wanting credit. Again, not to generalize, but women often are willing to hammer out compromise and not take rigid "my way or the highway" positions. We need those kinds of people representing us -- men and women -- if we are to see any progress.

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm speaks to delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

In a TED talk that you gave recently, you used the example of the Race to the Top in education. What's the connection to clean energy technologies?

The Race to the Top in education has been one of the great success stories of the Obama Administration. We should be using it as a model. We need a race to the top for clean energy jobs, for example. I can imagine a race to the top for economic clusters in biosciences. We need to be creating an innovation ecosystem that encourages all different ways of experimentation. One of my dreams is to get the Bill Gateses and the Warren Buffetts of the world to challenge the governors in a race to the top for solving our biggest problems, including energy. They could challenge Congress to match them dollar for dollar. And if Congress won't do anything, challenge the governors directly.  As part of that, we need to encourage private-sector venture capitalists to come to the table, leveraging public and private dollars together, with the venture capital firm doing the vetting. They are the ones who know best what is most likely to work. That's what they do. Let's get them in the game.

A recent report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change spelled out in stark language the consequence of our continued dependence on fossil fuel. Yet the nation still hasn't adequately addressed the risk. How can we change that?

If you look at surveys of Americans, global climate change typically ranks very low in priority.  Creating jobs typically ranks first. What we have to do is convince people that developing renewable energy industries will create new jobs. Lots of them. The EPA is about to come out with new standards that will require states to reduce CO2 emissions from their stationary power plants. I have no doubt that that will be portrayed by the fossil fuel industry as a job killer. We have to convince people that it is in fact a huge opportunity -- the mother of all opportunities -- for economic growth.

How do we do that in the face of so much misinformation?

By providing reliable, indisputable data. I'm working with several economists here at UC Berkeley to create what we're calling the American Jobs Project. We're seeking funds for what we hope will eventually be a 50-state strategy. The goal is to gather economic data that will show every state what the consequences are, in terms of job creation, for specific policies. We'd like to be able to say, with the hard data to back it up, that a particular policy input will result in specific job outputs. We'd like to have the data to show Florida, for example, that by creating a renewable portfolio standard for solar power, the state would add X number of jobs. And the same for Texas, and Mississippi, and all 50 states. What we're talking about is really providing research-based, credible data to counteract a lot of the misinformation that's out there. I do think that intentional misinformation is a huge threat. There are people out there with very deep pockets who are waging the battle to deny science.

What about politics? Do you have aspirations for office?

I love politics. But I'm not running myself. I'm tapped out. My goal now is to get people elected who have the same obsession that I have: to create jobs. I am completely obsessed by how you create jobs in America -- good paying middle class jobs -- in a global economy. I'm the co-chair of Priorities USA, a super-PAC that is set up to help Hillary Clinton in 2016, because I think she shares that obsession. The question is: Are we going to continue to worship at the altar of laissez-faire hands-off, or are we going to have an active government, not a big government, but an active government in partnership with businesses, universities, and others with the goal of creating jobs in this country? I think government must be a player in building a strong economic future for the country. And obviously I think that clean energy technologies will be a crucial cornerstone of that effort.

 

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