Energy & Environment

U.S. Energy Secretary Visits Houston To Tout Clean Energy Jobs Plan

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm made Houston her first official trip outside Washington, D.C. since taking office.

Andrew Schneider / Houston Public Media
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm leading a clean energy roundtable at Greentown Labs.

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm visited Houston to tout a federal clean energy jobs plan, in her first trip outside Washington since taking office.

Granholm toured Air Liquide's hydrogen production facility in La Porte Friday morning, then visited the Greentown Labs clean energy incubator in Midtown Houston. She hosted a roundtable at the latter stop, listening to the concerns of members of Congress, Houston's mayor, and a variety of business and nonprofit leaders and researchers.

The secretary came to Houston to help promote the American Jobs Plan, the Biden administration's multitrillion-dollar plan to rebuild American infrastructure, and made clear that a major focus of the effort is clean energy technology and the jobs to go with it.

"The president is completely all-in on climate equaling jobs, battling climate change equaling jobs," Granholm said. "He sees this as such an economic opportunity that the American Jobs Plan has a whole slug of climate-related investments that will help us to realize the jobs in this sector."

The $2 trillion plan would build new clean energy infrastructure, 40% of which would be located in disadvantaged areas most impacted by climate change, according to the White House. It also calls for cleaning up abandoned mines, investing in clean transportation and investing in climate science.

Houston congresswoman Sylvia Garcia noted that her district was home to workers in Houston's petrochemical complex, many of whom are concerned about where they fit into the Biden administration's vision for transitioning away from fossil fuels.

"As I travel with workers in my industries, they are worried, and they're watching carefully about what is going on," Garcia said. "They worry because we have to ensure that we include workers in every step. It's about their jobs. It's their pensions. It's their future. It's their training. It's their families."

Andrew Schneider / Houston Public Media
From Left to Right: Congressman Al Green, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner used the opportunity to stress the various ways in which Houston, famous as the center of the fossil fuel industry, has invested in clean energy technology, noting that as of July, the city began purchasing 100% renewable energy for all municipal operations.

The mayor also stressed the need for economic and environmental justice.

"When we talk about investing in communities that have been underserved and underresourced, communities of color – in the Sunnyside community, in Congressman (Al) Green's district, just down the road, we are building what will be the largest urban solar farm in the United States on 240 acres of landfill that opened up in the 1930s,” Turner said. “For the last 50 years, it has been sitting there contaminated and unused, pulling down this low-income community."

Granholm spent much of her time asking questions and listening to the concerns of those at the table. BakerRipley's Sommer Harrison, the nonprofit’s home restoration program director, told the energy secretary that a shortage of building materials — including fiberglass, materials for HVAC ducts, and glass for windows — is impacting weatherization efforts.

“I'd ask the administration (to) consider how they can address (the shortage) and help get production online and moving forward,” Harrison said. “Because we can receive a lot of funding, but we won't be able to spend it if we don't have the materials.”

Shell Oil president and CEO Gretchen Watkins, meanwhile, recommended a price on carbon to help fight climate change.

“If you think about how you're going to decarbonize, whether it's an industry or a country,” Watkins said, “you really do have to have a way for capital to be attracted to investing in things like carbon capture. And so a carbon market, again, one that's an even playing field for all, is absolutely a way to do that.”

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew Schneider is the senior reporter for politics and government at Houston Public Media, NPR's affiliate station in Houston, Texas. In this capacity, he heads the station's coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments...

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