- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Lawmakers on Wednesday demanded accountability from the Obama administration after an investigation found the federal government routinely fails to secure proper bonding from wind and solar project developers, potentially leaving taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars.

The Government Accountability Office study found that President Obama’s Bureau of Land Management has failed to secure the proper bonding from wind and solar energy firms constructing projects on federal lands. Developers are required to post bonds in the event they declare bankruptcy or are otherwise unable to fund clean-up of the land after the projects end.

Since Mr. Obama came to office, the administration has approved 55 renewable energy projects on federal lands, including 32 solar projects and 11 wind farms. Of those solar and wind projects, the administration has secured about $100 million in reclamation bonds to pay for land cleanup.

But nearly one-third of those bonds are woefully underfunded, GAO found, and taxpayers could be responsible for up to $15 million in reclamation costs.

Critics say the shoddy management and preferential treatment to “green” fuels proves the administration is willing to skirt the fuels to tilt the playing field toward its favored forms of energy.

“We just give money away trying to get people into those businesses … We’ve got to start holding people accountable that don’t follow the rules,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Natural Resources’ subcommittee on oversight and investigations, which held a hearing on the issue Wednesday morning.

In addition to not requiring enough bonding from developers, the GAO also found that the administration keeps poor and inaccurate records of wind and solar projects on federal lands. The administration also is far less stringent with its records for renewable fuels than it is for fossil fuels.

“The [Bureau of Land Management’ does not have a timeliness standard for wind and solar data entry, contrary to the standard for its mining program,” said Anne-Marie Fennell, director of the GAO’s natural resources and environment team, in testimony before the subcommittee Wednesday.

Democrats conceded the administration’s handling of renewable energy projects could present big problems for taxpayers.

“This is a potentially serious issue,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell, Michigan Democrat and ranking member of the subcommittee.

GAO officials said they take the issue seriously and already have started making improvements to record-keeping and other aspects of the bonding process.

“We take very seriously our responsibility to sustain the health and diversity of those lands, to ensure lands are restored,” said Steven Ellis, the Bureau of Land Management’s deputy director for operations.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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