Proterra Founder Gets One-on-One Interview With Biden Pentagon Official

Ryan Popple questions top DoD official about clean energy contracts

President Joe Biden virtually tours a manufacturing plant for green energy company Proterra / YouTube Screenshot
June 29, 2021

A Pentagon official spoke Friday with a top executive for the electric battery maker Proterra who asked whether the Biden administration would work with the private sector to "electrify" the military, the latest in a string of White House actions showing favor to the politically connected green energy company.

Fresh off the company's debut on the NASDAQ, Proterra's cofounder and executive director Ryan Popple interviewed Melissa Dalton, the Pentagon's acting assistant secretary for strategy, plans, and capabilities, for a conversation on how to create a "stronger, more sustainable military." Popple asked Dalton whether the U.S. military was "making changes to the way it procures equipment," asking specifically whether there was "interest in accounting for things like emissions, or CO2, as a metric for sustainability within the Department of Defense."

Dalton responded that Biden's Department of Defense would be taking steps toward "electrifying our own tactical vehicle fleet" and would be looking to partner with the private sector to achieve those goals. "There is so much work to do in this vein, given the stakes," Dalton told the Proterra executive at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group's conference. "Really looking forward to building out DoD’s partnership with you all in the private sector on this important issue set."

Several Biden administration officials, including EPA chief Michael Regan and top White House climate officials John Kerry and Gina McCarthy, were also present at the conference. The Pentagon declined to comment on plans to work with Proterra. Likewise, Proterra did not respond to a request for comment about current or future plans to contract with the Pentagon or the rest of the Biden administration.

The administration has praised Proterra, which until recently counted Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm as one of its biggest investors, since Biden took office in January. Biden took a tour of Proterra's facility in April, and his administration has pledged to include money for the electric battery maker in any infrastructure package put forward. Granholm sat on Proterra's board of directors before she was appointed to Biden's cabinet.

Though Granholm sold off her more than 200,000 shares of nonpublic Proterra stock to an undisclosed private buyer for a $1.6 million profit in May, the company still has significant political connections. Among its biggest remaining investors is an investment firm operated by former vice president Al Gore, who raised $55 million for Proterra in 2017, and Nicholas Pritzker, the brother of Democratic megadonor and current Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker.

Gore has reportedly had Biden's ear on the infrastructure plan. The firm also hired a pair of Obama officials as lobbyists shortly after Biden was elected president.

Not every member of the Obama administration is on board. Over the weekend, former Obama ethics chief Walter Shaub criticized the administration's promotion of Proterra while Granholm remained an investor, calling it a blatant violation of the current administration's standards.

"There’s much to like about Granholm. Her promoting the electric car industry while holding stock options in an electric car company isn’t one of them," Shaub wrote. "The conflict of interest law prohibits participating in a particular matter affecting a company whose stock options you hold."