Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm faced withering criticism from House Republicans on Thursday, with one lawmaker raising the question of impeachment over Granholm’s previous false congressional testimony about stock holdings.
“So you’ve admitted to testifying falsely … and corrected it later, but that doesn’t cure the fact that you actually committed perjury,” said Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.). “We’ve actually impeached presidents over committing perjury, and this is actually involved in your official duties.”
The impeachment remark was just one of many from Republicans targeting Granholm. The House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing included tense exchanges over rising gasoline prices and Inflation Reduction Act spending.
Granholm also acknowledged “poor judgment” following a news report about her bumpy electric vehicle road trip this summer.
Below are six takeaways from Granholm’s appearance.
The hearing was billed as a dive into DOE’s research and spending priorities, but Tenney spent her time questioning Granholm over false Senate testimony the secretary gave earlier this year.
Granholm said in a June letter that she had mistakenly told the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in April that she did not own any individual stocks.
But Granholm owned stocks in six companies that were deemed “non-conflicting” by DOE ethics officials, while her husband owned stock in Ford Motor Co. Those shares were later sold by Granholm.
Tenney said the situation was an unacceptable oversight for a Cabinet secretary.
“That’s perjury, period,” Tenney said. “Why should you not resign or why should we not consider some kind of impeachment inquiry into you for your perjury charges?”
Granholm defended herself by again stating she had erred when testifying she had sold all her stocks.
“I made a mistake when I testified saying that I had sold all stock,” Granholm said. “I honestly thought we had.”
Tenney argued that the controversy was just one of many the Energy secretary has been involved in. She noted that Granholm also held stock in Proterra Inc. while directing policy that could boost the electric bus company at the beginning of her tenure in 2021.
Granholm told lawmakers she sold those shares on a more expedited timeline than her ethics agreement required.
Rising gasoline prices
The hearing featured heated debate over the various energy issues facing the nation, which included Republican scrutiny of the agency’s work to lower oil and gas prices.
That scrutiny came following a consumer price index report by the Department of Labor published Wednesday, which showed that gasoline prices spiked nearly 11 percent in August.
Granholm pushed back against Republican attempts to pin the price hike on energy policy decisions made by the Biden administration.
Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.) suggested that last week’s move to cancel the last oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge directly hurt consumers at the pump.
“That has nothing to do with the price today,” Granholm said of the ANWR decision.
DOE previously released around 200 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the nation’s cache of crude oil, to lower gas prices for consumers.
Although the Treasury Department credited the move with helping shave 40 cents a gallon off gasoline prices at the time of the releases, Republicans have since said it has put the nation in jeopardy if another oil supply crisis were to occur.
The Energy secretary pinned the recent rise in gas prices on the global nature of the oil market, especially considering that domestic production of oil is at a record level.
She added that DOE does not have any plans to refill the reserve until the economics are more favorable.
“I am not worried about the reserve levels at all; it is the largest strategic reserve in the world,” Granholm said.
Republicans dove into their concerns on how the agency is conducting oversight on an influx of new spending from a handful of laws — the Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
In particular, Republicans accused DOE of forgoing its focus on fusion energy development and other scientific research by diverting climate law funding away from DOE’s Office of Science into renewable energy programs.
“While the Office of Science accounts for nearly 20 percent of DOE’s annual funding, it unfortunately received less than 2 percent of IIJA and IRA funds,” said Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee Chair Jay Obernolte (R-Calif.).
Republicans also expressed the long-held concern that DOE’s Office of the Inspector General is not being funded or prioritized enough by the agency to ensure climate law money is being spent wisely.
“I think it’s troubling that the Department of Energy doesn’t want to be transparent with taxpayer money,” said Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.). “Why are you trying to hide or not be transparent with taxpayer money?”
Republicans say they already have evidence of lax spending oversight. In May, DOE pulled the plug on a $200 million award to battery company Microvast Holdings Inc., following an onslaught of criticism from GOP lawmakers due to the company’s extensive ties to China.
Granholm said that the department has implemented strict guardrails on awards and grants since that controversy, and that DOE asked for a doubling of the inspector general’s funding in its 2023 budget request.
And in a retort to Republican criticism, Democrats on the committee argued that House Republican brinkmanship on a potential government shutdown would be disastrous to DOE’s research and oversight capabilities.
“A shutdown could jeopardize access to essential federal services and have harmful economic impacts, but also in some cases irreparably harm our research capabilities,” said Rep. Jennifer McClellan (D-Va.).
EV road trip
Granholm was forced to respond to Republican scrutiny regarding a reported incident at an electric vehicle charging station this June.
The Energy secretary confirmed NPR reporting that while on a four-day road trip to promote EVs, DOE staff used a gas-powered car to reserve a spot at a Georgia charging station so the secretary, who was traveling behind, could quickly recharge her Cadillac Lyriq.
While DOE aides were blocking the spot, a family with a young child looking to charge on a hot day became frustrated and called the police.
“It was poor judgment,” Granholm said of the situation. “The bottom line is it’s not going to happen again.”
Top Republicans are demanding answers on the incident. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called Granholm’s actions “arrogant.”
Granholm noted that the controversy reflected the greater national need for more reliable and available charging infrastructure. On Wednesday, DOE announced that the administration would provide up to $100 million in federal funding to repair and replace existing but nonoperational EV chargers.
Lawmakers also showed interest in upcoming decisions by DOE and the Department of the Treasury on pivotal rulemaking on hydrogen, a technology frequently described as the missing link to a fully decarbonized energy and transportation sector.
Granholm said that DOE’s decision over who will get the bipartisan infrastructure law’s $8 billion hydrogen hub program and Treasury’s delayed guidance for the lucrative but much-debated clean hydrogen production tax credit will likely come in tandem before the end of October.
“We expect that there will be [the hydrogen hub] announcement hopefully within the next few weeks, at least within the next month,” Granholm said. “We want this announcement to be in the same ballpark as the Treasury guidelines.”
The Energy secretary also clued in lawmakers on her feelings on how the Treasury guidance should be implemented. Over the last year, there has been fierce debate between environmentalists and the hydrogen industry over how the guidance should take into account the carbon emissions produced by “clean hydrogen” plants.
With DOE advising Treasury on how to implement that guidance, Granholm appeared to be somewhat sympathetic to the industry’s nascent stage.
“Hydrogen has been around obviously in the industrial process, but we haven’t used it on a more broad scale,” Granholm said. “But it’s not going to happen on its own without some start.”
DeSantis and IRA money
After Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a candidate for president, missed a critical IRA funding deadline, Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) asked the Energy secretary if there was any way local and regional governments could still access $350 million in energy efficiency incentives.
“I put a lot of blame on the Ron DeSantis administration for Florida falling back in terms of technology,” said Frost. “Our office has heard from many of my constituents, including seniors on fixed incomes and small-business owners, who are angry and stunned with the state’s decision.”
Through a veto of his Legislature’s request, DeSantis turned down $5 million to set up the IRA rebate program for consumers who buy energy-efficient appliances and retrofit their homes. So far, DeSantis is the only governor to have signaled that he will block the energy rebates.
Granholm said that the IRA requires that states must be the ones to access that funding, although the deadline runs until August 2024.
“I would be eager to see and to sit with you, and our team would figure out if there’s another solution,” Granholm told Frost. “But at this point, states must apply.”
This story also appears in Energywire.