published : 2023-10-17

CEO of bankrupt electric vehicle company still on top White House advisory council

Top Republican says Biden is 'continuing to play political favorites' by retaining Proterra CEO on top White House council

A photo of Gareth Joyce, the CEO of Proterra, standing in front of one of their electric buses. [Taken with Canon EOS Rebel T7i]

Gareth Joyce, the CEO and a board member of California-based electric bus maker Proterra, continues to serve on a top White House council advising President Biden on trade policy even after his company filed for bankruptcy.

Joyce has served on the White House Export Council, the principal national advisory committee on international trade which advises Biden on 'government policies and programs that affect U.S. trade performance,' since February. According to the Commerce Department's International Trade Administration, Joyce remains a member of the council.

However, in August, Joyce's company Proterra filed a voluntary Chapter 11 reorganization under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code as a result of negative financial performance. He explained at the time that Proterra, despite its bankruptcy filing, had created a foundation setting the stage for 'decarbonization across the commercial vehicle industry as a whole.'

"While our best-in-class EV and battery technologies have set an industry standard, we have faced various market and macroeconomic headwinds that have impacted our ability to efficiently scale all of our opportunities simultaneously," Joyce said on Aug. 7. "As commercial vehicles accelerate toward electrification, we look forward to sharpening our focus as a leading EV battery technology supplier for the benefit of our many stakeholders."

Joyce's continued role advising the White House — which has lauded him for his work 'accelerating the transition of transit and other commercial vehicles to zero emission solutions' — recently sparked criticism from Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee Ranking Member John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who called for his removal.

"It is unclear why Joyce, having overseen the failure of Proterra, should continue to advise you on issues of such great importance to our nation's economic security and wellbeing," Barrasso wrote to Biden in a letter Thursday. "It appears that by retaining Joyce, you are continuing to play political favorites with a company your administration has systematically promoted time and again since you took office."

An image of President Biden speaking at a White House event showcasing Proterra's business, with Proterra executives beside him. [Taken with Nikon D850]

Proterra, meanwhile, has been boosted by Biden on multiple occasions since he took office in January 2021.

On April 20, 2021, Biden hosted a virtual White House event to spotlight Proterra's business. During the event, Proterra executives took the president on a virtual tour of the company's South Carolina manufacturing facility where its buses are assembled.

"I want you all to know I used to be a bus driver," Biden remarked at the conclusion of the event. "You think I'm kidding, I'm not. I worked my way through law school driving a school bus."

"I'm going to come down and see you in person. So, I look forward to seeing y'all," he concluded.

Biden also touted his support for billions of dollars in federal funding to accelerate the adoption of zero-emission transit buses and school buses during the tour. He has set a goal for all buses made in America to be zero-emissions by 2030.

The president has since touted Proterra as an American electric vehicle success story in multiple speeches about his green energy goals.

A photo of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm addressing a crowd during a green energy conference, with Proterra branding in the background. [Taken with Sony Alpha a7 III]

In addition, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has faced widespread criticism for her ownership stake in Proterra.

Granholm had served on Proterra's board before her confirmation to lead the Department of Energy and continued holding shares of the company for months after her confirmation.

"Mr. President, it is evident that the promotion and favoritism towards Proterra Inc. have resulted in significant losses for taxpayers and investors, including those in my home state of Wyoming," Barrasso continued in his letter to Biden on Thursday.

"The bankruptcy of Proterra, despite the administration's support, raises serious questions about the reasoning behind these endorsements," the Wyoming Republican wrote. "The American people deserve accountability and transparency in matters of public policy and the businesses the President of the United States and his cabinet officials choose to promote."

The White House didn't respond to a request for comment.