At a Nov. 17 congressional hearing characterized by partisan rancor, Energy Secretary Steven Chu disputed Republican allegations that politics played a role in his decision to approve a loan guarantee to Solyndra, the now bankrupt solar firm.
E-mails obtained and released by Republican committee members suggest that there was some disagreement within the administration about the economic viability of Solyndra, and some have alleged that the White House pressured the Dept. of Energy to take Herculean steps to save the foundering company, which filed for bankruptcy late this summer.
The decision to offer the $535-million loan guarantee "absolutely … was made only on the merits," Chu told members of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. Furthermore, Chu took full responsibility for the decision to grant the loan guarantee, but noted that the decision spanned two administrations and was made only after two years of "rigorous technical, financial and legal due diligence."
But Republican committee members, particularly subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), questioned Chu's management of the program. Stearns also raised the issue of the overall viability of the loan guarantee program, as two of the first three firms to receive loans under Chu's leadership have gone bankrupt. "If Solyndra really is a litmus test, we have a much bigger problem on our hands," Stearns said.
Chu contended that, when the loan program was created, Congress acknowledged some projects would fail by appropriating nearly $10 billion to cover potential losses in the total loan program. He noted that renewable-energy projects are crucial to the nation's economic security and competitiveness with nations such as China, Germany and Canada, which all operate government-backed clean-energy lending programs.
"We are in a fierce global race to capture this market," Chu said.