It didn't take long for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to zero in on the bankrupt energy company Solyndra at its hearing this morning on how President Obama's green energy agenda has affected American jobs.
The most heated exchange this morning on Solyndra -- which put some 1,100 employees out of work when it folded after receiving more than half a billion dollars in government support -- took place over what happened during weeks just before and after Obama took office. That was the time period during which Republicans believe the new Obama White House pressured the Department of Energy and its loan guarantee credit committee to change their opinion on the viability of the Solyndra project.
Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman clashed on whether the loan guarantee review committee had meant to kill the Solyndra loan in early January or whether it simply wanted more information on the project.
Issa said the proof could be found in the credit committee's official recommendation on Jan. 9, 2009, which noted that "recommendation for approval is premature." Issa also pointed to an email four days later between DOE staff that noted that a canvassing of the committee concluded that "it was the unanimous decision not to engage in further discussions with Solyndra at this time."
Those documents, which were recently released by the Energy and Commerce subcommittee that is investigating Solyndra, prove that a week after Obama took office, his administration brought the Solyndra deal "back to life" in trying to rush a renewable energy loan out the door. Republicans believe that political pressure, not proper economic analysis, was the reason DOE issued a conditional commitment for the Solyndra loan on March 20, 2009.
But Poneman responded that it was Issa who seemed to be leaving out details about what the DOE credit committee thought of the project.
In the same 2009 communication, the committee also noted that it was remanding the project "without prejudice ... for further development of information."
Poneman said that between January and March, DOE investigators were conducting further due diligence before finally approving the project. The same credit committee voted to move the project forward on March 12 of that year.
The argument over what happened during the change in administrations has been in an important one as the Solyndra investigation moves forward. With Republicans looking to make the failed solar energy company the face of the president's green jobs agenda and stimulus effort, Democrats have sought to tie the project back to the George W. Bush administration in an effort to show that a Republican administration also moved the project forward.
After the Poneman and Issa exchange, a DOE spokesman quickly rushed out a statement noting that "some critics just can't let go of debunked myths."
"The Solyndra loan application was not 'rejected' by the Bush Administration," wrote spokesman Damien LaVera. "The Department began thorough due diligence on the project during the Bush Administration, which continued into the Obama Administration, driven by highly professional, non-partisan career employees with extensive input from outside reviewers."