While President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris push their climate agenda, their effort to drum up support for electric vehicles has raised ethical questions vis-à-vis Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who holds millions of dollars in vested stock options in Proterra, the leading U.S. manufacturer of electric buses and the manufacturer of a myriad of products related to electric vehicles.
On April 20, Biden took a virtual tour of Proterra, where Granholm had served on the board. He told Proterra’s CEO, Jack Allen, “Chairman, let me say something quickly to you. The fact is you’re making me look good. I used to have a friend that said it’s always great to do well and do good — you’re doing both pal. You really are.”
“Despite the hundreds of electric vehicle-related companies in the United States, Harris also toured a partner of Proterra, and the Proterra’s CEO Jack Allen later took part in a session at the administration’s U.S. Climate summit,” CNN reported.
Jonathan Macey, a professor of corporate law, securities law and finance at the Yale Law School, said of the value of Biden’s visit, “That’s like money in the bank.” Proterra is scheduled to go public in the near future.
Granholm claimed she “had nothing to do with” Biden’s tour while pledging to divest her stock options, reiterating her promise from February, when she was confirmed as Energy Secretary.
In late April, Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, sent a letter to the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in which he wrote:
In connection with her nomination hearing, I asked Secretary Granholm the following question for the record: “With respect to your affiliation with and financial interest in Proterra Inc., please confirm in narrative form the practical limitations that the Committee can expect your ethics agreement to impose upon you, especially as those limitations may bear on DOE’s programs that promote or otherwise impact or potentially impact electric transportation, including, for example, the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) Program. … Should I infer, that you will recuse yourself as appropriate from matters involving electric transportation at least until such time as you divest your interests in Proterra?”
Granholm had answered, “If confirmed, I will recuse myself from all particular matters that to my knowledge have a direct and predictable effect on the financial interests of Proterra until I have completed the divestiture.”
I am concerned that activities Secretary Granholm may have been directly or indirectly engaged in within the Biden Administration to promote electric vehicles (including electric buses), batteries, and charging infrastructure may have violated general commitments she made during her nomination process and as she entered the Biden Administration “to avoid any actual or apparent conflict of interest;” to “avoid any actions creating the appearance of violating the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch;” and to conduct “decision-making on the merits and exclusively in the public interest, without regard to private gain or personal benefit.”
“Given that status, the up to $5 million in value of investment that Secretary Granholm continues to hold in Proterra, Inc. is positioned to increase in light of her personal and substantial involvement in an aggressive, wide-ranging and tireless public relations campaign to promote electric vehicles, batteries and charging infrastructure; her leadership in promoting President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, including its proposal to spend $174 billion ‘to win the EV market,'” Barrasso wrote.
“Secretary Granholm has acted in full accordance with the comprehensive ethical standards set by the Biden administration,” an Energy Department spokesperson responded to CNN. “She is in the process of divesting all holdings in the company within the 180-day period permitted by her ethics agreement.”
CNN noted, “Granholm soon stands to see a substantial payday as Proterra is scheduled to go public in the first half of 2021, according to a company statement. In her ethics agreement, the former governor pledged to divest her Proterra stock options “as practicable but not later than 180 days after” her February confirmation — a timeline that falls within the 180 days.”