Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm owns up to $5 million in the electric battery and vehicle manufacturer President Joe Biden will promote on Tuesday as part of his push for a $1.9 trillion infrastructure bill.
Biden’s virtual visit to the electric battery producer Proterra comes days after Vice President Kamala Harris paid a visit to Thomas Built Buses, a North Carolina-based school bus company that counts Proterra as its main supplier of electric vehicles. The back-to-back White House visits to Granholm-connected companies risk at least the appearance of impropriety and demonstrate how lawmakers can use policy initiatives to pad their own wallets. Biden's infrastructure package includes a $174 billion investment in the electric vehicle market, calls for the replacement of "50,000 diesel transit vehicles" in favor of electric alternatives, and creates a Clean Buses for Kids program that will "electrify at least 20 percent of our yellow school bus fleet."
Granholm has taken a leading role in the administration’s forthcoming infrastructure package. The president in February tasked her with "identifying risks in the supply chain for high-capacity batteries, including electric-vehicle batteries, and policy recommendations to address these risks."
The Department of Energy did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Granholm joined Proterra’s board of directors in March 2017; internet archives list her as a board member as recently as February 19, 2021, shortly before her confirmation on February 25. Her financial disclosures reveal up to $5 million worth of stock options in the green tech company, which went public in January through the special purpose acquisition company ArcLight Clean Transition Corp. Arclight, a NASDAQ-listed company, saw shares shoot up about 55 percent since its September IPO, a spike financial traders attributed directly to the acquisition of Proterra.
In a January 16 letter to the designated agency ethics official, Granholm vowed to step down from the board and sell her stock in the company, as well as the steps she will take "to avoid any actual or apparent conflict of interest." The former Michigan governor has sold some stock, but has not offloaded any of her Proterra shares, according to a White House official. Granholm’s stake in Proterra represents her largest financial asset outside of a house in Oakland, Calif., that she values as between $1 and 5 million, according to her financial disclosures.
The White House confirmed that Granholm still holds stock in Proterra, but said she played no role in planning the president's visit.
"Proterra was selected for today’s virtual visit because it is the leading U.S. manufacturer of electric buses, employing 600 workers at its South Carolina and California plants," a White House official told the Washington Free Beacon. "Neither Secretary Granholm nor the Department of Energy were involved in selecting the Proterra plant."
The official said Granholm is "in the process of selling off all stock in the company" and will have it sold "within the 180-day window permitted by the ethics agreement."
After publication of this story, the White House cancelled Biden's planned remarks on infrastructure due to news of an incoming verdict in the George Floyd murder trial. Biden took part in a virtual tour of Proterra.
In a February 24 executive order, Biden placed Granholm in charge of "identifying risks in the supply chain for high-capacity batteries, including electric-vehicle batteries, and policy recommendations to address these risks." One of Proterra’s key products is electric-vehicle batteries.
Proterra’s website boasts that "our flexible design enables Proterra® EV batteries to be the best choice for commercial vehicles ranging from transit buses and trucks to delivery vehicles, construction equipment, and more."
Nearly 85 percent of Proterra employee campaign contributions went to Democrats, including Joe Biden, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Collin Anderson contributed to this report.
UPDATE, Wednesday, April 21, 9:21 a.m.: This piece was updated to include the White House decision to cancel Biden's remarks at Proterra.