Energy Secretary Steven Chu on Thursday testified in front of a House committee investigating the Energy Department’s $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra, the bankrupt solar company that Republicans have attempted to make into a pariah of the Obama Administration’s green energy ambitions.
But even before Chu had a chance to take the oath, let alone begin testifying, it was abundantly clear the hearing would be highly contentious and partisan, as Republican and Democratic lawmakers used their opening remarks to attack each other over the handling of the Solyndra investigation.
Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee of Oversight and Investigations, began by stating: “Our goal is to determine why DOE [Department of Energy] and the [Obama] administration tied themselves so closely to Solyndra, and why they were so desperate to repeatedly prop this company up. Why did DOE make these bad decisions, and what can we do to prevent such a waste of taxpayer dollars in the future?”
Ranking member Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) fired back in her opening remarks, saying that the GOP-lead House subcommittee hadn’t been actually interested in the background of the Solyndra loan, but instead “focused on firing partisan broadsides at Obama Administration,” and had engaged in an “unnecessary and unprecedented subpoena battle with the White House.”
“The point of this inquiry shouldn’t be to score partisan victories or smear individuals,” DeGette added, “The point is to discover what happened with Solyndra so we can avoid it and help advance us as a leader in the clean energy market around the world.”
DeGette said that the Department of Energy’s chief financial officer, Steve Isakowitz, had told the subcommittee that the Solyndra loan guarantee was awarded based “on merits,” not on political pressure, a distinction at the heart of the dispute over the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) countered, noting that in his 25 years on the committee “rarely have i seen a more mismanaged program, to put it positively,” than the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program.
Barton said he was interested in finding out why the Energy Department under Chu “reversed” the decision made by the Energy Department under Samuel Bodman, during the Bush years, not to offer Solyndra a conditional loan guarantee in January 2009, just weeks before President Obama took office.
That said, Barton also clarified that he would “continue to support loan guarantees for the alternative energy industry, contrary to what my colleagues on Democratic side of the aisle say.”
But it was ranking member Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), who came out most formidably in defense of Solyndra and the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program in those opening statements, saying he was “disgusted” with how Republicans had spearheaded the investigation and the subsequent hearings.
Waxman accused Republicans of holding “empty chair hearings,” saying they “humiliated people for invoking their Constitutional rights,” (referring to the decision by Solyndra executives to plead the Fifth Amendment and not speak before the committee), “released cherry picked emails” and “unjustly smeared George Kaiser,” an Obama campaign bundler whose foundation invested in Solyndra.
Speaking to Chu directly, Waxman said Republicans had “criticized you for awarding loan guarantees at the same time they were seeking loan guarantees for projects in their own states,” referring to requests for Department of Energy money made by Rep. Stearns and Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), among other Congressional Republicans, before Soyndra declared bankruptcy in late August.
“I don’t believe in giving up,” Waxman asserted, “But we have to reject the anti-science agenda of Republicans…It’s time for Republicans to stop dancing on Solyndra’s grave and start getting serious about energy policy. It’s shameful to deny science and fail to develop a clean energy policy,” Waxman said.