Updated 5:24 pm ET Friday, January 27, 2012
Republicans in Congress didn’t wait long after government-funded New York electric-car battery manufacturer Ener1 declared bankruptcy on Thursday to begin branding the company another “Solyndra.”
The two situations are distinct though, and not in the least because prominent Indiana Republicans including Governor Mitch Daniels and Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IL) are among the strongest supporters of an Ener1 subsidiary in their state that received government funds.
To backtrack - Obama referred to a “partnership with the private sector” in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, which the Hill reported was actually a grant program that funded an Ener1 plant called EnerDel in Indianapolis.
That plant, which is not expected to close while the parent company reorganizes after filing for bankruptcy on Thursday, received a $118.5 million grant from the Department of Energy.
The DOE has lately become a big target for Republicans over its previous financial backing of Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer, and Beacon Power, a flywheel energy storage company, both of which went bankrupt in 2011.
Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), who has been leading the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s probe into the Department of Energy following the Solyndra bankruptcy in September 2011, released a scathing statement linking all three bankrupt clean energy companies.
“Unfortunately, you can now add Ener1 to the growing list of failed companies that went belly up after hundreds of millions of dollars in administration backing,” Stearns said in his statement.
“Sadly, the Department of Energy’s jobs record seems to grow worse by the day - first Solyndra, then Beacon Power, and now Ener1 - and it is American taxpayers who are paying the price. One bankruptcy may be a fluke, two could be coincidence, but three is a trend. Our investigation continues, and we are working to ensure taxpayers never are never again stuck paying hundreds of millions of dollars because of the administration’s risky bets.”
Many outlets were quick to join in the pile-on, too, drubbing Ener1 as the “second or third next Solyndra,” in the case of Reason and “Another Solyndra?” in the case of Politico. The Business Insider’s piece was originally titled “The Next Solyndra,” as revealed by its URL, but that part of the headline seems to have been scrubbed.
Stearns also highlighted the fact that Vice President Joe Biden visited and gave a speech to the plant almost a year ago to the date, on January 26, 2011:
While that’s true, it’s also worth pointing out that some of the biggest cheerleaders of the EnerDel plant in Indiana were also Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, both of which whom were captured on video visiting the plant and saying nice things about it.
Daniels toured and spoke at the plant on multiple occasions, including in July of 2011, when EnerDel signed an agreement with a Chinese company Wanxiang (Wang Chung), which an EnerDel executive said was due to Daniels’ influence.
“No single individual has been more important to us than Governor Mitch Daniels, our advocate-in-chief in Washington and on missions abroad,” the executive said, introducing Daniels.
“Indiana is committed to maintaining a climate where innovative businesses like Ener1 can succeed,” Governor Daniels said in his prepared remaks. “We’re very proud to have played a role in bringing these two companies together and look forward to their shared success as they develop the next phase of the electric car industry. Today’s announcement is an example of one of many fruitful partnerships between Indiana and China and shows that the Hoosier economy has a global reach.”
There’s an additional layer of irony in that Daniels delivered the Republican response to the State of the Union on Tuesday attacking the President’s economic policies, when he himself was a big backer of at least one of those in his state.
Lugar, too, was introduced on his visit to the EnerDel plant on February, 9, 2008 as a “visionary and strong proponent of alternative energy sources and reducing U.S. dependency on foreign oil.”
As Lugar himself put it in his speech: “I’ve gone through all of this rhetoric just to underline the risk-taking that is involved in this company, that is well known to you, and you need to know that people appreciate that, and I’ve one of them…You’re producing for a market that should be there, should be there promptly, if we’re to save the world, but isn’t there…”
Lugar attacked the President following State of the Union for “fail[ing] to focus on creating private sector jobs and improving the economy,” when just two years earlier he was applauding the Department of Energy for awarding EnerDel grant money.
Correction: This article originally misstated that the President was referring to Ener1 and EnerDel when he mentioned “high-tech batteries” in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. In fact, the President was referring to the overall grant program that funded EnerDel. We’ve since corrected the error in copy and regret it.