The centerpiece of President Barack Obama???s plan to jumpstart the economy??? spending billions of stimulus dollars on alternative energy???has become a flashpoint in the presidential election amid growing evidence that taxpayer dollars have been squandered on numerous ???green pork??? projects.
Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney and his vice presidential pick Rep. Paul Ryan both leveled the charge during their respective debates???an indictment backed up by dozens of hearings and official inquiries on Capitol Hill as well as investigations conducted within Obama???s own administration.
???The past four years of this president???s administration have been defined by bailouts, handouts and copouts,??? said Rep. Cory Gardner (R ???Colo.), who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee that led the congressional inquiries. ???The green initiative of the president is certainly the epitome of handouts.???
The Energy Department says it distributed $90 billion of stimulus funds in ???government investments??? and tax incentives to put ???Americans back to work making our homes and businesses more energy efficient, increasing the use of clean and renewable electricity, cutting our dependence on oil, and modernizing the electric grid.???
However, Energy Department Inspector General Gregory Friedman told Politico in April that he has initiated 100 investigations into projects that received the funding including accusations of taxpayer money diverted for personal use, false information in grant and loan requests, conflicts of interest and inferior work quality. So far the inspector general???s work has led to eight criminal prosecutions and he has recovered $2.3 million in misspent funding.
The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, which oversees stimulus spending by all agencies, said in May it had completed 80 reviews and investigations and uncovered serious problems in outlays by the Energy Department, which received one of the largest chunks of stimulus funding of any federal agency.
The Recovery oversight board found that $5 billion of work in the weatherization program ???was often of poor quality??? and that agency officials could not defend decisions to approve significant loans for other endeavors.
Several companies participating in the loan program have since filed for bankruptcy, including battery maker Ener1, which received $100 million, solar panel manufacturers Solyndra, of California, and Abound Solar, which received $535 million and $70 million respectively, and energy storage company Beacon Power, of Massachusetts, which was awarded $43 million.
Solar panels aflame
Gardner said House investigators are now examining the Abound solar panel company, based in Colorado, whose product ???one worker described as working perfectly as long as it isn???t in the sun???apparently it catches on fire,??? Gardner said. ???The product wasn???t ready for prime time, hundreds of people are out of work, millions of dollars are lost by local investors ??? and consumers bought a product that was never fit for the sun, even though it was a solar panel,??? Gardner said.
Just last week, battery maker A123 Systems, based in Waltham, Mass., filed for bankruptcy, despite a $249 million award in stimulus funding and another pledge for $465 million in investments from a Chinese company. The company manufactured lithium ion batteries for electric and plug-in hybrid cars, as well as batteries for the military on a $20 million contract.
???You don???t pick winners and losers, you just pick losers,??? Romney told Obama during the Oct. 3 debate.
Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), chairman of an Energy and Commerce subcommittee, said A123???s bankruptcy is expected to reverberate through the industry and affect Fisker automotive, the Anaheim, Calif.-based electric car maker, which received $529 million in loans, and AES Energy Storage of Arlington, Va., which received $17 million in loan guarantees to support the construction of an energy storage system for the failed battery company.
???A123???s bankruptcy is a sign that the Obama administration???s green house of cards is starting to collapse,??? Stearns said.
Ryan called the stimulus spending ???crony capitalism and corporate welfare??? during his debate with Joe Biden and reminded the vice president of his responsibility to ensure the money was wisely spent. ???The vice president was in charge of overseeing this $90 billion in green pork to campaign contributors and special interest groups,??? Ryan said.
Despite the inspector general and the Recovery board???s public acknowledgement of financial mismanagement, Biden insisted it was a successful program.
???All this talk about cronyism, they investigated and investigated, did not find one single piece of evidence,??? Biden said. ???In fact, four percent of those green jobs didn???t go under. It???s a better batting average than investment bankers have.???
Interestingly, a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that ???green jobs??? included welders, college professors, lobbyists and school bus drivers.
True cost of ???green jobs???
???What we???ve learned is that green jobs cost millions of dollars each. It is the height of hypocrisy to see a president campaign against venture capitol and then run a program that is truly a venture capital program except it???s paid for by the taxpayers,??? Gardner said.
???Green pork??? beneficiaries include former Vice President Al Gore, an investor in 14 green technology companies that benefited from $2.5 billion in loans, grants and tax breaks, the Washington Post reported.
Steve Westly raised $437,000 for Obama???s first presidential campaign???the Westly Group includes electric carmaker Tesla Motors, which received $465,000 in government backed loans.
George Kaiser is another Obama fundraiser who collected as much as $100,000 for the president???s first campaign, and was linked by the House committee investigation as a Solyndra investor.
Despite efforts by Biden to tout Solyndra as a model program for its efforts to create environmentally friendly jobs, it became the singular scandal that has come to define Obama???s ???green pork??? problem.