February 27, 2024

Solyndra Executives Take Fifth at House Hearing

Brian Harrison, the chief executive, and Wilbur G. Stover, the senior vice president and chief financial officer — each with a lawyer and a single sheet of paper with the text of a statement that he read over and over again, explaining that he was respectfully declining to answer questions — appeared before the oversight and investigations committee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The committee is examining how the company failed after getting $528 million in government loans.

The case is an acute embarrassment for the Democrats because Solyndra was the first loan guarantee approved by the Obama administration under a program designed to generate jobs and invigorate the American solar industry. When the loan was approved, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced it, and later, President Obama visited the factory in California.

“How does a company go from having the president of the United States visit it to having the F.B.I. come in and confiscate its files?” asked Representative Joe L. Barton, a Texas Republican.

Democrats addressed their chagrin as well; Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado, the ranking Democratic member, who had requested that the two executives be called as witnesses, recalled how Mr. Harrison had met with her and other members of Congress in late July. “I don’t know how they could paint such a rosy picture to us, and declare bankruptcy five weeks later,” Ms. DeGette said.

The witnesses had no friends on the committee, but after repeated questions from members about what the company did with the money and how the executives could have failed to see impending problems, Representative Henry A. Waxman, the California Democrat, complained to the subcommittee chairman, Representative Cliff Stearns of Florida, that the right against self-incrimination was meaningless if the witnesses had to sit through repeated accusatory questions that everyone knew in advance they would not answer. The atmosphere brought to mind newsreel depictions of the House Un-American Activities Committee questioning witnesses suspected of being Communists.

The bankruptcy’s timing could hardly be worse for the solar industry; about $9 billion in additional loan guarantee money is available, but by law, projects must break ground by Sept. 30. On Thursday, the sponsor of three major projects that had received tentative approval said that at least one of them would certainly not meet the deadline and that the two others might not either. About 1,000 megawatts of power is at risk, according to the industry’s trade association.

But the Republicans, with evidence in hand that the Solyndra loan was moved through quickly in the late stages, has publicly cautioned the Department of Energy and the White House not to act in haste in the last days of the program, which was paid for as part of the stimulus bill.

In fact, committee members were divided about whether the Solyndra bankruptcy was a reason to put the brakes on the whole program. Ms. DeGette said, “It would be to our long-term economic peril if we cede leadership to any other nation in clean-energy technology development.” But Representative Michael C. Burgess, Republican of Texas, referred to a vote on Thursday night by the House to cut money for loan guarantees for electric cars, to help pay for disaster relief.

“Yes, we took that money back,” Mr. Burgess said. “If the D.O.E. is going to be chumps, the very least we can do is corral what they’re doing.”

A prominent Democrat, Representative Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, said, “The Republican majority is recklessly exploiting this one case to advance a political agenda that is very clearly aimed at wrecking” government support for renewable energy.

But Mr. Markey is pursuing a separate point: that the appropriate lesson to draw from Solyndra is that the much larger loan guarantee that has been promised for construction of a twin-reactor nuclear plant in Georgia deserves closer scrutiny.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=a19d70fe73b56f0c4e6af2b7c0089f58

Speak Your Mind