Saturday, July 23, 2011

Environmentally conscious crony capitalism

President Obama's senior appointees at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget took another step this week toward a potentially epic confrontation with Congress by ignoring a document subpoena issued by a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The subpoena is for thousands of documents requested months ago by the committee's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations concerning OMB's evaluation of a Department of Energy economic stimulus program loan guarantee worth $535 million for Solyndra, Inc., which makes solar energy panels.

The energy and commerce panel is chaired by Rep. Fred Upton, while Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-FL, is chairman of the subcommittee. Jacob Lew is director of OMB, while Steven Chu is Secretary of Energy.

Obama appointees at OMB have produced lots of documents in response to the subcommittee's original request in March, but many were so redacted of relevant information as to be useful. More important, they have simply refused to give the Upton/Stearns panel many other documents that could shed vital light on the loan guarantee decision-making process, including who drove it and why.

Yesterday, the Stearns subcommittee issued an ultimatum, telling OMB it has until Monday morning at 9 am to comply with the subpoena or face the consequences:

“Despite the subpoena's clear instructions and generous seven day deadline to produce the documents, OMB has yet to deliver a single page,” Stearns said. “I am mindful that OMB Director Lew and his colleagues are engaged in work on the important debt ceiling issue, but a congressional subpoena demands prompt and respectful compliance."

Stearns noted that OMB's refusal to provide the subpoenad documents contradicts Obama's promise that his administration would be open and transparent:

"The entire reason that we were forced to issue the subpoena was OMB’s recalcitrance. For an administration that parades around the banner of transparency, they have been anything but forthcoming. What is the Obama administration trying to hide as their actions suggest they do not want the facts of the Solyndra loan to come to light? The public and Congress have a right to know if billions of taxpayer dollars are being invested wisely.”

Solynydra was the first firm to receive a loan guarantee under Obama's $859 billion economic stimulus program in 2009. Obama has pushed billions of federal tax dollars to so-called "clean energy" firms like Solyndra, which makes proprietary solar energy panel equipment.

At least one major fund raiser for Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, Tulsa, Oklahoma, billionaire George Kaiser, is among Solyndra's venture capital backers and there have been multiple questions about the firm's future viability.

But just hours before the Stearns subcommittee issed its subpoena Brian Harrison, Solyndra's CEO, issued a statement defending the company's efforts since receiving the DOE loan guarantee:

“The fact is that Solyndra is growing rapidly. We are installing our products around the globe, we have created and supported thousands of American jobs, and we are on track to nearly double our revenue this year. Solyndra just completed a record quarter for shipments, with strong demand in the United States and major exports as well. Last year, we shipped 65 megawatts of panel production and expect that to double again this year.

“We have seen a total net direct employment increase at Solyndra of 310 regular, full-time jobs since the DOE made its conditional loan guarantee commitment. That loan guarantee allowed Solyndra to build our new factory, Fab 2, which created 3,000 construction jobs in the midst of one of the deepest construction downturns in California history. One hundred percent of our production is based here in the U.S., and Solyndra’s operations have led directly to 300 new supply chain jobs across 18 states."

For the committee's background memo explaining the sequence of events following its initial document request through issuance of the subpoena, go here.

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