Oversight Members Outline 'Pattern of Ethical Issues' at Granholm's Energy Department

Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm / Getty Images
July 13, 2021

The Biden administration's Energy Department suffers from a "pattern of ethical issues" under Secretary Jennifer Granholm, according to Republican members of the House Oversight and Reform committee.

In a Tuesday letter to Granholm that focused on whether Assistant Secretary Kelly Speakes-Backman "acted inappropriately" by promoting the interests of her former employer in her official government role, the lawmakers called out the agency for ignoring complaints about ethical lapses.

"On May 12, 2021, we first requested information about another conflict of interest regarding your relationship with Proterra, Inc," the letter states. "Your agency has failed to provide a substantive response. This lack of transparency and apparent pattern of ethical issues raises questions about the stewardship of the agency by the Biden Administration."

The complaint the committee referenced was in regards to Granholm's promotion of electric battery company Proterra while she still held millions of dollars in shares of the company. The agency did not produce documents requested by the committee, which is now asking for documents related to Speakes-Backman.

The Republicans are requesting that Granholm hand over all documents relating to Speakes-Backman and the Energy Storage Association, the electric battery trade association she ran until earlier this year, as well as all documents from the Department of Energy to Speakes-Backman "related to the analysis of any conflict of interest."

The letter comes at a perilous time for the Energy Department, which has been rocked with conflict of interest scandals from the top down. Granholm herself owned millions of dollars of stock in an electric vehicle battery company the Biden administration repeatedly touted.

The questions on Speakes-Backman stem from a complaint by watchdog group Protect the Public's Trust. The group in May submitted a formal complaint to the Energy Department's general counsel, alleging that a series of Speakes-Backman's speeches sponsored by donors of the Energy Storage Association "suggest a pattern of advancing the interests of her former employers and potentially endorsing them."

The watchdog said Speakes-Backman's disregard for oversight is "disturbing" and starts "from the top" with Granholm.

"When given the opportunity to provide documents demonstrating compliance, the department remained silent and has refused to provide the requested public records," Michael Chamberlain, the group's director, told the Washington Free Beacon. "All of this is part of a troubling pattern that seemingly flows down from the top. We applaud the Committee for raising these important questions, particularly in the wake of Secretary Granholm's refusal to divest of her seven-figure Proterra stock options while the Administration was promoting the company."

Rep. Ralph Norman (R., S.C.), who penned the committee's letter, told the Free Beacon that "there appears to be a lack of transparency and pattern of ethical issues at Biden's Department of Energy."

"We previously raised concerns about Secretary Granholm potentially using her position for profit, and now it appears Assistant Secretary Speakes-Backman may be using her position to benefit her previous employer," Norman said. "These potential conflicts of interest raise serious ethics questions and the Biden Administration must provide the American people with answers and transparency."

The Department of Energy did not respond to request for comment on the letter.