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Did White House pressure OMB over Solyndra loan?

Sept. 14, 2011 at 7:32 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, Sept. 14 (UPI) -- Republican lawmakers questioned Obama administration officials Wednesday on whether they rushed approval of a big loan to a solar panel maker that failed.

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations asked why the Energy Department approved the $535 million loan to Solyndra in 2009, then restructured the loan in February even as the company struggled financially, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The company, based in Fremont, Calif., declared bankruptcy two weeks ago and closed the plant, putting more than 1,000 people out of work.

"You should have protected the taxpayers and made some forceful actions here," Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., the subcommittee's chairman, told Energy Department loans director Jonathan Silver.

Silver suggested the risk was justified because of the potential for enormous payoffs in the competitive alternative energy industry.

"The rest of the world takes the industry enormously seriously," Silver said. "It's a multitrillion-dollar market that will create tens of thousands of jobs."

The hearing came after The Washington Post reported e-mails suggested the White House pressured budget watchdogs to quickly approve the Solyndra loan so Vice President Joe Biden could announce the approval at a September 2009 groundbreaking for the company's factory.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday the e-mails do not indicate the White House exerted pressure for the loan to be made.

"What the e-mails make clear is there was urgency to make a decision on a scheduling matter," Carney said.

He said the White House needed to know whether the loan would be approved to "put on an event and that sort of thing."

"It had nothing to -- and there is no evidence to the contrary -- ... with anything besides the need to get an answer to make a scheduling decision," Carney said.

The Post said staffers with the Office of Management and Budget complained in late August 2009 e-mails there was "time pressure" to finish a review of the $535 million loan to Solyndra.

"There isn't time to negotiate," another e-mail said.

Vice President Joe Biden spoke by satellite feed at the Sept. 4, 2009, groundbreaking for Solyndra's factory in California, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu attended in person.

A spokesman for President Barack Obama, Eric Schultz, said the administration had an "active interest" in the timing of the approval. But he said the decision to approve the loan was made by career staff members.

Solyndra was set up to make solar cells. The investors included the George Kaiser Family Foundation, set up by an Oklahoma billionaire who was an Obama fundraiser, the Post said.

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