Energy Department Blames Focus on 'Climate Crisis' for Ethics Oversight

Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm / Getty Images
February 11, 2022

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm weathered a storm of ethics complaints about her personal financial transactions this week. But when the Washington Free Beacon reached out for comment, her department said it can't concern itself with ethics issues because of the climate crisis.

A Department of Energy spokeswoman said the agency has no time to respond to questions about Granholm's ethics violations because it is preoccupied with rising temperatures and "extreme weather events."

"The planet is warming faster than ever, the cost and impact of extreme weather events are intensifying, and yet what some people are spending their time on is a $400 late fee that was already paid on a clerical oversight," spokeswoman Charisma Troiano told the Free Beacon. "As we do every day, DOE and the Secretary remain focused on tackling the existing climate crisis and delivering an equitable clean energy future that will bring cheaper power, cleaner air and good-paying jobs for more Americans."

Troiano is referencing the fines Granholm incurred under the STOCK Act for failing to disclose financial transactions within the mandated 45 days. The secretary's delayed filings were at the center of a complaint that the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) filed on Feb. 11 with the department's inspector general. Earlier that day, watchdog group Protect the Public's Trust (PPT) sued the Department of Energy over the department's failure to disclose information about Granholm’s family business following the group's request to do so last year.

Granholm has faced increased scrutiny since the Free Beacon reported that she owned millions of dollars of stock in the renewable car battery manufacturer Proterra, which the Biden administration has repeatedly promoted. After Granholm sold her non-public shares of Proterra to an undisclosed buyer for a $1.6 million profit, she handed out tens of millions of dollars of government contracts to Proterra-tied companies, prompting further criticisms from watchdog groups such as PPT.

PPT in May submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for basic information about Granholm's business dealings with her husband, Dan Mulhern. The Free Beacon reported that Granholm and Mulhern's company provides consulting to the same sorts of clean energy companies the secretary oversees and to which she provides funding. The group wants to determine whether the pair "are acting consistently with all of the laws, rules, and regulations that govern the actions and activities of high-ranking and non-career government officials."

A hundred days after PPT requested the documents, the department asked the watchdog to narrow its request. The watchdog complied, but the department has yet to provide information. PPT says it is now "well beyond the statutory period for federal agencies to make a determination with respect to a FOIA request."

Now, PPT is suing the Department of Energy to get the records it originally requested.

"The Department is wrongfully withholding non-exempt agency records requested by PPT by failing to produce non-exempt records responsive to its request," the group says in its lawsuit.

Since filing its FOIA request, PPT has grown more concerned with Granholm's behavior. The group has sent multiple ethics complaints to the Energy Department about Granholm's potentially inappropriate political activity and problematic promotion of Proterra in her official government capacity.

Like PPT, FACT is a frequent thorn in Granholm's side. In its latest missive to the Energy Department's inspector general, FACT wrote that Granholm "should not be permitted to violate the law without consequences and an explanation to the public." FACT also criticized Granholm for waiting months to disclose stock transactions she made almost one year ago.

The STOCK Act requires Granholm to disclose transactions no more than 45 days after making them, but she waited until December to disclose a tranche of transactions, some made as early as April 2021. Granholm filed two reports on Dec. 15 and 16 that contain multiple examples of her failure to disclose thousands of dollars of stock transactions within the required time period. Each failure to file a periodic transaction report on time results in a $200 penalty.

FACT alleges that the Energy Department's Office of Government Ethics "signed off on Granholm's filings, which in itself requires explanation to the public."

The watchdogs' activity comes days after Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.) and Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R., Wash.) wrote to the Energy Department's inspector general to inquire about Granholm's STOCK Act violations. The Republican duo says Granholm's violations are inexcusable.

"A plea of ignorance by Secretary Granholm is not an acceptable defense for the violation of federal law," the lawmakers write.