President Joe Biden's Tuesday trip to La Crosse, Wis., featured praise for the administration's favorite green energy company: electric vehicle manufacturer Proterra.
Biden's primary stop on his trip to promote the White House infrastructure plan was to the Wisconsin city's mass transit hub, which has purchased two of Proterra's electric buses. Biden said during a press conference in La Crosse that he went to visit Proterra's factory in April and promised to buy the charging stations needed to power the city's buses.
"I know that the city of La Crosse is getting two electric transit buses this fall," Biden said. "I think I saw them both, I was down in the Carolinas looking at the bus company, where we are going to buy them charging stations to power them."
Though Biden stopped short of naming the electric bus company, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed it is Proterra that will manufacture the buses for La Crosse. "The buses are being manufactured by Proterra, whose Greenville, South Carolina, facility the president visited back in April," Psaki told reporters en route to Wisconsin.
Biden's infrastructure plan includes $174 billion in support of the electric vehicle industry, with plans to replace 50,000 diesel vehicles used across the country with electric alternatives. The White House has promoted Proterra as one of the companies that will drive this radical transformation. The overt promotion created obvious conflict of interest concerns—Biden's energy secretary Jennifer Granholm, who sat on Proterra's board before her nomination, held a multimillion-dollar stake in Proterra as she helped both sculpt and sell the infrastructure package.
La Crosse spent $1.5 million to purchase the two Proterra vehicles, $1.25 million of which was covered by federal grants, according to a local 2019 report. Proterra writes off the exorbitant price with assurances that each bus will save municipalities roughly $433,000 in operating costs over its lifespan.
On the day of Biden's visit to Wisconsin, Proterra announced that the Department of Transportation's Federal Transit Administration had awarded 10 unnamed cities new grants "to procure Proterra electric transit buses, charging infrastructure, and Proterra Powered low-floor shuttles in partnership with Optimal Electric Vehicles, LLC."
"Today’s announcement underscores Proterra’s ability to deliver comprehensive fleet electrification solutions to commercial vehicle customers with the company’s EV technology," the green energy company announced in a press release on Tuesday morning. The company made its debut on the stock market on June 16.
Shortly after Biden's election, Proterra hired two former Obama administration officials to lobby the federal government for assistance. A Federal Transit Administration spokesman said grant decisions are made by the agency alone.
"Selections for all FTA competitive grant programs are determined based on a rigorous internal review process that does not include representatives from outside organizations," the spokesman said.
The administration's promotion of Proterra while Granholm held a financial stake invited criticism from both ethics watchdogs and Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Walter Shaub, who led the Office of Government Ethics during the Obama administration, blasted the White House for allowing Granholm to influence plans to boost the electric battery industry while she was invested in one of the industry's biggest companies. Shaub suggested last week that Granholm should have been forced to resign after the conflict of interest was discovered.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) said the administration’s work with Proterra may end up "even worse than Solyndra," the politically connected solar company that went bankrupt after receiving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.
Neither Proterra nor the White House responded to requests for comment on Biden's Tuesday trip.