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Posted by on Sep 16, 2011 in Business, Economy, Energy, Politics | 24 comments

Solyndra and Bush

Type in “Solyndra” and “Bush” at Google and you’ll get pages of media references (Fox, too, but not exclusively) to “Obama trying to blame Bush for Solyndra.” In the page I looked at, there was only one “Bush role in Solyndra…” From CNN to ABC to dozens more, the story is Obama Blaming.


What emerges is that a bunch of Republican donors and allies had invested in Solyndra. That is probably the motivation for the Bush administration’s support of Solyndra. So the loan originated during the Bush administration and was passed along for renewal to the Obama administration.

Andrew Revkin does a nice job of “separating issues from myths” in the Solyndra matter. He also credits the reporting of the Washington Post’s Brad Plumer who sees the brouhaha as the “newest political chew toy.” Let’s look at the potential “irregularities” in how the White House dealt with Solyndra.

…Evidence is mounting that there was something irregular about the way the Solyndra deal got greenlighted. My colleagues Joe Stephens and Carol D. Leonnig have obtained e-mails showing that the White House pressed the Office of Management and Budget to hurry up in reviewing the deal (note, however, that this only came after the Energy Department had approved the loan), even as OMB officials voiced concern about being rushed.

Does that prove the White House engaged in cronyism, shoveling cash toward a political ally? Not necessarily. Democrats have pointed out that Solyndra’s loan process was initiated by the Bush administration and that many key investors were Republicans. Still, there could have been other reasons the deal was hastened. As a former Clinton energy aide stressed to me, it was arguably a mistake to sell the loan guarantees as job-creating stimulus (the program was expanded as part of the 2009 stimulus bill). “It means you try to force huge amounts of money quickly through processes that aren’t quite ready yet,” the aide said. “It’d be better to have a calmer, steadier source of funding.”

What also emerges — and many of us find this to be the real scandal — is that the right is using this as an anti-environmentalism cause and their attacks are gleefully supported (funded?) by America’s coal industry. Nice! The fact that Obama saw this as a way of creating jobs is probably another problem for the anti-job team on the right.

You still need a timeline on the loan guarantee? Here’s an excerpt from some research from the Center for American Progress:

December 2006: Solyndra Applies for a Loan Guarantee under the 1703 program.

Late 2007: Loan guarantee program is funded. Solyndra was one of 16 clean-tech companies deemed ready to move forward in the due diligence process. The Bush Administration DOE moves forward to develop a conditional commitment.

October 2008: Then Solyndra CEO Chris Gronet touted reasons for building in Silicon Valley and noted that the “company’s second factory also will be built in Fremont, since a Department of Energy loan guarantee mandates a U.S. location.”

November 2008: Silicon prices remain very high on the spot market, making non-silicon based thin film technologies like Solyndra’s very attractive to investors. Solyndra also benefits from having very low installation costs. The company raises $144 million from ten different venture investors, including the Walton-family run Madrone Capital Partners. This brings total private investment to more than $450 million to date.

January 2009: In an effort to show it has done something to support renewable energy, the Bush Administration tries to take Solyndra before a DOE credit review committee before President Obama is inaugurated. The committee, consisting of career civil servants with financial expertise, remands the loan back to DOE “without prejudice” because it wasn’t ready for conditional commitment.

March 2009: The same credit committee approves the strengthened loan application. The deal passes on to DOE’s credit review board. Career staff (not political appointees) within the DOE issue a conditional commitment setting out terms for a guarantee.

Once taxpayer money was involved, the Obama administration was reluctant to let Solyndra fail.

What critics fail to mention is that the Solyndra deal is more than three years old, started under the Bush Administration, which tried to conditionally approve the loan right before Obama took office. Rather than “pushing funds out the door too quickly,” the Obama Administration restructured the original loan when it came into office to further protect the taxpayers’ investment.

Republicans don’t, of course, want to yield their “chew toy.”

Republicans blasted Obama administration officials Wednesday for green-lighting a $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra, a now-bankrupt California solar company with close ties to the White House.

The GOP attack at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing focused on emails they said showed the White House tried to rush a final decision on Solyndra’s financing so that Vice President Biden could announce approval of the loan guarantee at the September 2009 groundbreaking for the company’s new factory. …The Hill

Cross posted from the blog Prairie Weather.

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