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Democrats seek expansion of probe on bankrupt firm

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2011

House Democrats are calling for the expansion of a congressional investigation into bankrupt solar-panel maker Solyndra LLC, targeting a wireless business that recently went broke and was awarded more than $250 million in loan guarantees in the waning months of the Bush administration.

The company, Open Range Communications, filed for bankruptcy protection in Delaware earlier this month, less than four years after winning $267 million in loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide broadband service in hundreds of rural communities in 17 states.

Democratic Reps. Henry A. Waxman of California, Diana DeGette of Colorado and Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts wrote that Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have been frequent critics of the Solyndra collapse while staying quiet on the Open Range bankruptcy.

Solyndra went bankrupt last month after receiving more than a half-billion dollars in federal loan guarantees in 2009. Republicans have been investigating and holding hearings on whether the Obama administration ignored warnings about the company's finances before awarding the loans.

"Like Solyndra, however, the Open Range loan puts millions of taxpayer dollars at risk," said Mr. Waxman, Ms. DeGette and Mr. Markey. "The main distinction between the Solyndra guarantee and the Open Range loan appears to be that the Open Range loan was approved in 2008, when President Bush was in office."

There are other differences, as the lawmakers point out in their letter.

The Open Range and Solyndra projects received loans through different government programs, though Democrats said the committee still had oversight over broadband projects.

The Democrats' letter also called for investigating loan guarantees given to nuclear-energy companies.

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