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Climate talks have wrapped up. Granholm weighs in on the highlights

NOEL KING, HOST:

All right. For more on COP26, China and infrastructure, Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm is with us this morning. Good morning, Secretary Granholm.

JENNIFER GRANHOLM: Good morning.

KING: I'd like to ask you first about something that happened last week. The U.S. and China reached an agreement to cooperate to reduce methane emissions, which was very big news, but they didn't really say what that cooperation would look like. What are the U.S. and China promising here, exactly?

GRANHOLM: They're promising to - well, the United States was leading a pledge to reduce methane emissions among 100 countries at COP by 30% by 3030 - 2030 - excuse me. And what we were hoping to do is to get China on board with that. They didn't sign on to that exact pledge, but they did commit to reducing methane and to working on the technologies collaboratively to make sure we get to that reduction.

KING: Working on the technologies collaboratively - OK, that's interesting. That's specifics there. How important do you think that agreement is?

GRANHOLM: Oh, I think it's huge. Obviously, methane is a hugely potent greenhouse gas. We want to make sure that we address it both domestically and abroad. I mean, one of the things that we did at COP - the United States - which I think is really significant, which is to help - to offer to help emerging countries who have made very aggressive pledges under COP to get to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 but don't necessarily know which path to take - because there are multiple paths. And they may have a geography that is more suitable, for example, to geothermal rather than for, you know, hydrogen, etc. So what we wanted to do is to help countries get to their goals.

And we have 17 national laboratories at the Department of Energy. And we are focused on these pathways to decarbonization. So as a - both as a geopolitical matter, for strength for the United States to partner with these countries around the world, as well as for a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, that, to me, was a very significant step by the United States - and also partnering, if you will, with China in a way that allows us to have sort of - as John Kerry puts it - an oasis of - you know, of diplomacy around energy.

KING: Most of the countries at the summit wanted to see big polluting countries stop coal use entirely by 2030, and that didn't happen. Why didn't the U.S. join the pledge at the summit to quit coal?

GRANHOLM: Yeah. The issue is really - and it's true for all these countries that have been fossil fuel-producing countries - we obviously want to move in the direction of eliminating fossil fuels, but we are not there yet. And we want to move to technologies, incentivize technologies that will get us there. And the question about coal is always whether it is unabated, meaning no technology attached that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, reduces CO - carbon pollution, or whether it is - it has technology. And that technology is part of what the president is signing into law today, which is the bipartisan infrastructure deal.

There's a number of demonstration projects in that deal that help to decarbonize fossil fuels. And a lot of countries are very interested in that technology as we make our way through the transition. Ultimately, we want 100% clean electricity by - in the U.S. - by 2035. And the president has made that goal. And as we transition, though, there are people in communities that are impacted. And we want to make sure that we decarbonize the existing fossil fuels as well as move to that 100% goal.

KING: What is the trillion-dollar infrastructure package - which, as you say, will be signed into law later today - what is it going to mean for Americans' day-to-day lives? What do you imagine the immediate effect being?

GRANHOLM: Well, immediately people will see activity on roads that they hate (laughter) driving on...

KING: (Laughter).

GRANHOLM: ...Because they - their cars are damaged. You know, on average, Americans pay a little over $500 a year just repairing their cars for being on, you know, bad roads and bridges. So immediately that is - you know, that money goes out in large part by what is known as formula. So they'll see those dollars go. That's just in the hard infrastructure - port, you know, kind of things. And I would include ports in that because we do have the supply chain crunch. People will start to see those. But this is a long-term bill.

This is a 5- to 10-year deployment of money. And so this is an infrastructure bill that is set to build us up as a nation for the future. It's not like, for example, the, you know, the Recovery Act - the American Recovery Act - you know, that wanted all these shovel-ready projects. That's not what this is about. This is about building up where we really need to - so roads, bridges. People will see - again, not tomorrow - but they'll also see investment in broadband, investment in the transmission grid. These are all longer-term strategies. This will happen over the next few years. And people start to see, first of all, people going to work in those kind of jobs, trained for those kind of jobs and, of course, the betterment of our country because we have shored up infrastructure.

KING: U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm - thanks for your time this morning.

GRANHOLM: You bet - thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.