Administration grilled on Solyndra loan

Who’s to blame for debacle, lawmakers ask

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President Obama toured the company last year, saying Solyndra expected to hire 1,000 workers and make enough solar panels over the lifetime of the plant it was building that it would be like replacing eight coal-fired power plants.

Mr. Biden, along with Energy Secretary Steven Chu, announced the award of federal loans to the company in 2009. Mr. Biden said the announcement was part of an “unprecedented investment this administration is making in renewable energy and exactly what the Recovery Act is all about.”

Solyndra executives did not appear at the hearing, though they were expected to attend last week.

“Given the timing of the hearing, legal complexities arising from last week’s activities and the urgency of bankruptcy proceedings, [Solyndra executives] will not be able to appear,” Solyndra spokesman Dave Miller said, adding that talks were ongoing about a date for them to voluntarily testify.

Mr. Miller said the company’s top two executives, Chief Executive Officer Brian Harrison and Chief Financial Officer Bill Stover, were working in California to “engage in potential purchasers.”

The question of whether market conditions or the Obama administration was more to blame for taxpayers potentially losing a half-billion dollars in loans to the company fell mostly along political lines during the hearing.

Mr. Stearns said the rush to spend stimulus money impacted the quality of oversight by the Office and Management and Budget and the Department of Energy.

One of the documents reviewed during the months-long Republican investigation cited by Mr. Stearns show the White House had scheduled a 2009 groundbreaking ceremony with Mr. Biden and Mr. Chu before the loan deal was finalized, he said.

Mr. Stearns also cited an email to the vice president's office from a senior OMB official uncovered by congressional investigators. The OMB official wrote, “We have ended up with a situation of having to do rushed approvals on a couple of occasions. … [W]e would prefer to have sufficient time to do our due diligence reviews and have the approval set the date for the announcement, rather than the other way around.”

In another email in late August 2009, a special assistant to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel contacted senior OMB staff asking whether “there is anything we can help speed along on OMB side.” At the time, the White House was talking of scheduling an announcement highlighting the loan deal, but OMB had not finalized its review.

Another OMB staff member, who received a forwarded copy of the email, responded, “I would prefer 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.”

In the end, OMB completed its review and the groundbreaking event at Solyndra went ahead as scheduled on Sept. 4. But in a report released by Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, officials said documents show that OMB staff working on the loan approval felt pressure from the White House to finish their work in time for the groundbreaking, which also was attended by Mr. Chu and Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican who was California’s governor at the time. Mr. Biden appeared via a satellite feed.

“And out there at Solyndra, you guys have figured it out,” Mr. Biden said. “You figured out how to harness the sun’s power for a better, more efficient, more prosperous future for all of America, and you’re creating more jobs.”

In his remarks, Mr. Schwarzenegger said the project would create thousands of jobs, and he applauded the Obama administration.

“So let’s give a big hand to President Obama and the Obama administration for this great job,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said.

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