National News

Sep 19, 2011 9:28 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP

Senator was not always critical of loan program

WASHINGTON (AP) - Republican Sen. David Vitter says the Obama administration has been "reckless" as it awards billions of dollar taxpayer subsidies for renewable energy projects, including a $528 million loan to a now-bankrupt California solar panel maker.
The Louisiana senator and other Republicans have pounced on the bankruptcy of Fremont, Calif.-based Solyndra Inc., saying the White House rushed to approve a loan guarantee to the politically connected company without adequate oversight
But Vitter was not always so critical of the loan program. Documents obtained by The Associated Press show he wrote to the Energy Department at least seven times since 2009 seeking money for projects that would benefit his home state.
One of the projects backed by Vitter, a company that makes activated carbon to reduce pollution at coal-fired power plants, has received preliminary approval for a $245 million loan guarantee. The project has not yet received any money.
In April 2009, Vitter urged Energy Secretary Steven Chu to approve a loan for Red River Environmental Products, saying the Coushatta, La., company could help meet a growing demand for products that help power plants comply with stricter federal regulation of mercury emissions.
"I understand the importance of accessing the domestic energy resources we have, like coal, in an environmentally conscious manner," Vitter wrote.
Vitter has also backed projects for nuclear power, renewable diesel fuel and a company that makes fuel-efficient cars.
In response to the Solyndra Inc. debacle, Vitter has co-sponsored a bill that would require an inspector general investigation into any company that receives federal money for renewable energy and then goes bankrupt.
"We can't afford any more crony capitalism where the federal government picks winners and losers and then leaves taxpayers on the hook when everything falls apart," Vitter said in a news release announcing the bill, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Ron Johnson R-Wis.
Vitter's bill would also require that federal agencies conduct a full audit of any renewable energy projects that have received taxpayer money since 2009.
The audits would examine how many jobs were created and what the company's profits are. Any company that declares bankruptcy or fails to meet the objectives required by the government would be subject to an inspector general investigation.
Solyndra filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this month and laid off its 1,100 employees. The Silicon Valley company was the first renewable-energy company to receive a loan guarantee under a stimulus-law program to encourage green energy and was frequently touted by the Obama administration as a model.
The company's implosion and revelations that the administration hurried Office of Management and Budget officials to finish their review of the loan in time for a September 2009 groundbreaking have become an embarrassment for President Barack Obama.

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