The chairman of the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee probing the loss of $535 million in federal loan guarantees to the now-defunct Solyndra solar-panel firm that has close ties to the administration is calling for a moratorium on all future “green energy” loans until investigators can get to the bottom of the widening Solyndra scandal.
“In my opening statement I called for a halt to the $10 billion [in loan money] the DOE [Department of Energy] still has,” said subcommittee chairman Rep. Cliff Stearns, a Republican. “Return it to the Treasury to help defray our debt.”
On Wednesday, Stearns’ panel questioned two administration officials in a bid to determine whether career civil servants in the Energy Department and the Office of Management and Budget, who were responsible for evaluating the risks of underwriting loans to Solyndra, felt political pressure from the White House to make hasty decisions without proper due diligence.
There are several reasons those suspicions exist. Records show one Obama “bundler” who raised between $50,000 and $100,000 for the president’s campaign, and who indirectly has a major ownership stake in the company, visited the White House on several occasions as the Solyndra application was being reviewed by DOE and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
Also, Stearns says the White House scheduled a high-profile groundbreaking ceremony involving Vice President Joe Biden -- before the OMB had given its stamp of approval on the loan deal. Finally, a series of internal e-mails published by The Washington Post strongly suggest OMB staffers felt they were under the gun.
“We would prefer to have sufficient time to do our due diligence reviews,” a senior OMB official wrote to Biden’s domestic policy adviser. When an assistant to then White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel asked whether “there is anything we can help speed along on the OMB side,” an agency official replied: “I would prefer that this announcement be postponed . . . . This is the first loan guarantee, and we should have full review with all hands on deck to make sure we get it right.”
President Obama later touted Solyndra as the centerpiece of his strategy to bring green-energy jobs to America. He visited its California factory, paid for in part by nearly a half-billion in taxpayer dollars, and said it proved “the promise of clean energy isn’t just an article of faith.”
OMB staffers and an independent auditor warned from the beginning that the company was undercapitalized and had not yet demonstrated a viable business model.
In August, it closed its doors, laying off 1,100 workers. A few days later, the company’s offices were raided by the FBI.
Stearns said it is reasonable to assume the FBI has evidence of potential wrongdoing that goes beyond the concerns discussed so far in the oversight committee hearings.
Stearns is concerned that, despite the looming scandal over possible political influence, the Energy Department has actually stepped up its problem of granting loan guarantees to alternative energy companies.
Last week it announced a $150 million loan guarantee to 1366 Technologies, a Lexington, Mass., firm that has developed a new way to make silicon wafers for solar cells. Two weeks ago, it announced nearly $300 million in loan guarantees for SolarCity, a corporation that installs and owns rooftop solar systems. And in August, DOE finalized an $852 million loan guarantee to NextEra Energy, a solar project in California.
Stearns tells Newsmax he wants such disbursements to stop until his committee can get some answers about what went wrong with Solyndra.
“In a larger sense,” Stearns told Newsmax, “what we have here is President Obama is clinging to this idea of creating jobs through solar panels. Also, he wants to subsidize them, and thinks that it’s going to work. I think his religious faith in green jobs is obscuring his vision for jobs in America.”
According to Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, the Energy Department already has put taxpayers on the hook for $8 billion in loan guarantees to “green tech” firms.
It has about $10 billion more that it is mandated to spend prior to a Sept. 30 deadline.
In his opening statement Wednesday, Upton said: “If Solyndra really is the ‘litmus test for the loan guarantee program’s ability to fund good projects quickly,’ as DOE’s stimulus advisor called it in an email to DOE officials, I am very concerned about where the $10 billion DOE has left to spend before the Sept. 30 deadline is going.”
Stearns says that next week the panel will question top Solyndra executives to learn more about how taxpayers’ money was spent.
He says the committee has not uncovered a smoking gun that proves any fraudulent behavior yet, although he says “crony capitalism” may have occurred because so much money was being spent so quickly.
“This case with Solyndra shows you that they were more willing to get out the door the money to supporters, and to show the PR dog-and-pony show, than they were to really have credibility with what they were doing,” Stearns told Newsmax.
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