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Energy secretary sold $1.6 million holdings in electric bus maker after Biden visited firm

Secretary Jennifer Granholm’s transaction occurred about two years before Proterra filed for bankruptcy protection this month.

Published: August 9, 2023 11:37pm

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm sold her holdings worth $1.6 million in the electric bus company Proterra in May 2021 shortly after President Joe Biden made a virtual visit to the company and long before it declared bankruptcy.

Granholm, a former attorney general and two-term governor of Michigan, became a member of the company's board of directors in March 30, 2017 and remained so while she was nominated. She resigned from the position after she was confirmed as Secretary, subject to an ethics agreement dated Jan. 16, 2021.

Senate Republicans had advocated for the sale of her energy-related stocks, saying that the holdings violated her ethics agreement as U.S. energy secretary.

As recently as June 2023, Wyoming GOP Sen. John Barrasso, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, called on Department of Energy Inspector General Teri Donaldson to investigate Granholm's financial holdings.

Michael Chamberlain, director of Protect The Public's Trust and described by pro-Biden critics as a "thorn in the side of the Biden Administration," argued the sale of the holdings is an example of the Biden administration's ethics issues.

"She served on the board of Proterra until she was confirmed as secretary and then she inexplicably held on to stock options, as you mentioned, for an extended period of time, even until really the media pressure became too great, apparently, for her to be able to continue before she finally did sell those," he told Just the News on Wednesday. "And meanwhile, the Biden administration, President Joe Biden, Vice President Harris, they were promoting the company. I believe the CEO made visits to the White House. It really, at that time, it really did not look good from an ethical perspective."

In February 2023, Biden appointed Proterra CEO Gareth Joyce to the White House Export Council.

Political commentator Erick Erickson wrote on Twitter that Granholm "should thank the GOP for pushing her to sell her stock."

The Republican Party tweeted about the bankruptcy, connecting it to Biden's energy policies.

"The 'Bidenomics' model: Biden promotes a 'green' company linked to his energy secretary, his energy secretary is exposed and cashes out, and then about two years later, the company files for bankruptcy," the GOP tweeted. "That’s what happened with the electric bus company Proterra."

A CNBC report in January 2022 alleged that Granholm violated stock disclosure laws called The STOCK Act at least nine times in 2021. That law restricts members of the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches of government from "insider trading." Granholm also held shares in the ride share company Uber and her husband had shares in Ford, which has been focusing heavily on its electric vehicle models. Ironically, Granholm told U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) in a hearing in April of this year that she supported an even wider ban on the trading and holding of any individual stocks by senior Executive Branch officials.  

Proterra's bankruptcy follows Biden's visit and endorsement, which is drawing comparisons to defunct energy company Solyndra, which Biden promoted as vice president.

Biden visited a Ford plant and test drove the electric Ford F-150 two years ago. 

In 2023, Ford received a conditional $9.2 billion loan for an electric vehicle battery plant. That loan came from the U.S. Department of Energy's Loan Programs Office, which funded with taxpayer money Solyndra, the failed solar startup that received a $535 million loan from the LPO in 2009. 

Biden had announced a $535 million loan guarantee to solar energy company Solyndra in 2009 when he was former President Barack Obama's vice president. The company later went bankrupt in 2011.

While Granholm was on Proterra's board, the company directly received a $10 million Paycheck Protection Program federal loan under the Trump administration during the COVID pandemic. ProPublica reported data showing that the loan – including interest – was forgiven.

More than $10 billion of Biden's signature $1.9 trillion infrastructure plan was dedicated to zero-emissions transit and electric school bus initiatives. 

During the 2020 election cycle, Biden vowed to lead on clean energy "bigger, faster and smarter."

“We know how to do this but this time bigger and faster and smarter,” Biden said.

Biden's GOP critics have often pointed to Solyndra as evidence of his track record of endorsing failed energy initiatives. Republican Rep. Steve Scalise, the current House Majority Leader, previously called Biden’s $2 trillion energy plan “Solyndra on steroids.”

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