The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) was sued by the watchdog group Protect the Public’s Trust on Thursday based on allegations that the DOE has failed to comply with requests under federal law for public documents. The requested documents pertain to possible ethical rules violations by a high-ranking DOE official.
The complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleges that DOE has not produced any records in response to requests made according to the federal Freedom of Information Act.
The records request is related to possible misconduct by Kelly Speakes-Backman, the official in charge of DOE’s office on energy efficiency and renewable energy. Protect the Public’s Trust is investigating whether Speakes-Backman has improperly advanced the interests of her former employer in her new government position.
She was previously employed by the Energy Storage Association, a private trade group that promotes the interests of electric battery producers. In her current DOE position, she has promoted the association’s policy proposals.
The complaint cites news reports that raise questions about ethical issues at DOE generally and with Speakes-Backman mainly. Reporting has questioned her capacity to discharge her official duties without promoting her former private employer and that association’s member businesses.
The DOE has also been questioned over similar ethical issues related to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm’s promotion of the electric battery industry at the same time that she owned millions of dollars worth of stock in Proterra, a battery company regulated by DOE. Granholm also served previously on Proterra’s board. She sold her interest in the company to an unknown buyer after the possible violation was raised.
Michael Chamberlain, director of Protect the Public’s Trust, stated that Americans should not have to sue the federal government to obtain documents belonging to the public when they are related to alleged ethics violations by officials entrusted with duties to the public. He added that although litigation is “never preferable,” it is sometimes the “only way to bring transparency and accountability” to the Biden administration.
According to the lawsuit, the watchdog group has requested the DOE produce the public documents described in the complaint since May.