House Oversight investigation reveals politics and corruption at the Energy Department
President Obama has repeatedly insisted that his spectacular failures in “green energy investment,” which have cost the American taxpayer billions of dollars, were not his fault. For a change, he doesn’t blame them on George Bush, but instead on Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who is academically gifted, but an absolute menace when it comes to handling public funds. It was all supposedly a clean, pure, noble effort to make America dependent on unreliable, hideously expensive wind and solar power, all without a hint of politics. It was all done for our own good, by people who are much smarter than we are, and care much more deeply about the Earth than grubby middle-class tax serfs ever could.
As recently as last Friday, President Obama insisted to an interviewer in Denver that Energy Department loan decisions are “decisions, by the way, that are made by the Department of Energy, they have nothing to do with politics.”
Chu has been happy to play along, telling the House Energy and Commerce Committee in November 2011 that he was “aware of no communication from White House to Department of Energy saying to make the loan or to restructure.”
It’s the by-now familiar refrain of the Obama Administration: nobody knows anything about anything. Supervisors have no idea what their subordinates are up to. Powerful agency heads are blissfully innocent of their agencies’ activities – why, they’re just as surprised as you are to discover their minions have been smuggling thousands of American guns into Mexico, or telling American forces to stand down when our people are under attack by terrorists! And Barack Obama is the sweetest little lamb in Washington, utterly unaware of anything his gigantic government is doing, protected from all unpleasant knowledge by his army of czars. The only thing he knows about the Leviathan State is that it’s absolutely virtuous, it’s not nearly big enough, it’s very hungry, and it’s your duty to feed it.
But the story Obama and Chu have been peddling about those green energy loans is false, and the House Oversight Committee has the paperwork to prove it. On Halloween, they dumped 150 emails into the President’s trick-or-treat bag, extensively documenting numerous acts of political interference with the DOE loan program, from both the White House and powerful congressional Democrats. It took over a year for them to compile this report, and it was worth the wait.
The summary memorandum from Oversight lays out the stakes: “DOE obligated $14.5 billion to 26 projects before the loan program’s termination in September 2011. Three of those projects (Solyndra, Beacon, and Abound) have already declared bankruptcy, and several others are facing serious financial difficulties. Twenty-two of these projects were rated below investment grade (junk) because of their bad credit quality.”
What follows is basically 150 pages of internal email correspondence, much of it from Loan Program Office (LPO) officials at the Department of Energy, grumbling about all the political pressure they were under to throw that money out to Obama’s chosen losers, as fast as possible.
“I am growing increasingly worried about a fast track process imposed on us at the POTUS level based on this chaotic process that we are undergoing…by designing the fast track process and having it approved at the POTUS level (which is an absolute waste of his time!) it legitimizes every element and it becomes embedded like the 55% recovery rate which also was imposed by POTUS,” warned LPO credit advisor Jim McCrea on October 30, 2010. For those unfamiliar with the term, “POTUS” is a Greek word meaning “empty chair.”
Other emails detail the President personally approving DOE loans, including some of the biggest disasters ever to rock the American taxpayer. “You better let him know that [the White House] wants to move Abound forward,” LPO Executive Director Jonathan Silver wrote to credit advisor McCrea on June 25, 2010. “Policy will have to wait unless they have a specific policy problem with Abound.”
Abound Solar ended up going bankrupt after spending $70 million of its $400 million Energy Department loan guarantee. “Department of Energy spokesman Damien LaVera said the agency provided documents about Abound Solar to Congress and insisted politics were not a factor in granting the loan guarantees,” the Huffington Post reported on Tuesday. Whoops! Looks like that statement is now as bankrupt as Abound!
“Pressure is on real heavy on SF due to interest from VP,” said another email from McCrea in September 2010. “SF” refers to Shepherds Flat, a gigantic billion-dollar wind farm boondoggle that National Review writer Robert Bryce called “America’s worst wind energy project” in an October 2011 article. The Administration cronies backing this project, including tax-evading General Electric, only put up 11 percent of the equity for the project (you and I provided the rest) but they would receive “an estimated return on equity of 30 percent.” The cost per ton of carbon dioxide reduction is about 600 percent too high.
“VP,” meanwhile, refers to the Vice President of the United States. And who wouldn’t be eager to take billion-dollar investment advice from Joe Biden?
Democrats in Congress got to use DOE as a piggy bank too, especially Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who needed some big slush to grease the skids for his 2010 re-election bid. From the House Oversight report:
In a December 5 2009 email, Loan Program Office Senior Credit Advisor Jim McCrea forwarded an article about Senator Reid’s reelection campaign to LPO contractor Paul Barbian and stated: “Since this is not going to go into the DOE, and just to be clear, the translation is: Reid may be desperate. WH may want to help. Short term considerations may be more important than longer term considerations and what’s a billion anyhow?”
In a May 4 2010 email, LPO Executive Director Jonathan Silver wrote in an email “I need some stats on how many projects we have funded or have in DD [due diligence] as a percentage of totals. Reid is constantly hit at home for not bringing in the federal dollars.”
Throughout 2010 LPO emails indicate that projects in Nevada were prioritized because they were “high profile,” “tied to larger events,” or because they had Senator Reid’s support. These projects included the $343 million SWIP project, the $98.5 million Nevada Geothermal project, and the $737 million SolarReserve Tonopah project.
(Emphases in the original.) “What’s a billion anyhow?” That would be a far more honest slogan for the Obama re-election campaign than anything they’ve actually used.
“The attached emails demonstrate that non-political, career Department of Energy employees felt political pressure from sources as high as the President, Vice President, Secretary Chu and senior White House officials,” the House Oversight memorandum concludes. “The attached emails also demonstrate that infighting between agencies and mismanagement by the White House resulted in a breakdown of due diligence that ended up wasting billions of taxpayer dollars.”
But let’s give Obama four more years and another few trillion dollars! Surely he’ll get it right next time, and the next pile of our children’s borrowed money will be “invested” with due diligence, perfect honesty, complete transparency, and astonishing efficiency.