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Biden pick to head Energy Dept faces Senate confirmation hearing

WASHINGTON, Jan 27 (Reuters) - President Joe Biden’s nominee for energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm, is expected to face questions on the administration’s push to compete with China on electric vehicles at her Senate confirmation hearing later on Wednesday.

While governor of auto-manufacturing Michigan from 2003 to 2011, Granholm led a charge to secure $1.35 billion in federal funding for companies to produce electric vehicles (EVs) and batteries in the state.

Granholm, 61, who is expected to be confirmed by the Senate in days after the hearing, wants to steer the department to help the United States compete with China on EVs and green technologies like advanced batteries and solar and wind power.

“We need to be the leader, rather than passive bystanders, or otherwise we’re going to allow other countries like China and others we’re fighting to be able to corner this market,” Granholm told ABC News last month.

She would be the second female U.S. energy secretary after Hazel O’Leary served in the 1990s. Granholm has done few media appearances since being nominated by Biden, but said on Twitter this month she was doing a “deep dive” into the department and was awed by the work of its lab scientists.

Granholm is likely to be asked about the department’s Loan Programs Office, or LPO, founded with stimulus funding in 2009 during the Obama administration. The office has loaned money and been paid back by successful businesses including Tesla Inc , but has been slammed by some Republicans for support of Solyndra, a failed solar company.

The LPO has more than $40 billion available for loans and loan guarantees for advanced technologies that went unused by the Trump administration. Nearly $18 billion can go to direct loans for green cars, which could spark Biden’s support for the industry, though the department would likely need Congress to approve more money to make sweeping changes.

Granholm will also likely be asked about other parts of the department’s mission including overseeing the 17 national labs, the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Energy secretaries traditionally promote the interests of the fossil fuels industry but with Biden’s promise to make curbing climate change one of the pillars of his administration, Granholm may focus less on oil and gas than her predecessors Dan Brouillette and Rick Perry. (Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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