Democrats press energy companies to return relief funds

By Kelsey Brugger, Timothy Cama | 05/12/2020 07:29 AM EDT

Democrats on the new coronavirus panel are calling on at least two energy-related businesses to return government loans or provide an explanation as to why the companies should keep the money.

House Democratic Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina is leading the chamber's new committee on the pandemic.

House Democratic Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina is leading the chamber's new committee on the pandemic. Francis Chung/E&E News

This story was updated at 9:40 a.m. EDT.

House Democrats are calling on at least two energy-related businesses to return forgivable government loans or to provide an explanation as to why they should keep the money.

In letters sent late last week, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), chairman of the new Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, urged five publicly traded companies to give back the Paycheck Protection Program loans they received last month.


Democrats are concerned that corporations managed to secure loans intended to aid struggling small businesses with fewer than 500 employees.

The program was created through last month’s coronavirus relief package after lawmakers fought over how to boost the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the letters went to EVO Transportation & Energy Services Inc., a trucking company that also operates compressed natural gas fueling stations.

Another went to Universal Stainless & Alloy Products Inc., a company that sells a variety of steel products to power generation and oil and gas companies.

Clyburn and his Democratic colleagues urged the company CEOs to immediately return their $10 million PPP loans "so that these funds may be used to support truly small businesses that are struggling to survive during the coronavirus crisis."

"We did not intend for these funds to be used by large corporations that have a substantial investor base and access to capital markets," they wrote.

"Unfortunately, many large companies were able to utilize this program and obtained PPP loans that were intended for small businesses. Some of the companies returned these funds amid widespread public outrage. However, other companies — including yours — still have not returned these funds."

Neither EVO nor Universal Stainless responded to E&E News’ requests for comment by press time.

EVO brands itself on its website as one of the fastest-growing transportation providers to the U.S. Postal Service, with 1,400 employees and a fleet of more than 1,100 trucks and tractors, the Democrats noted.

Universal Stainless has more than 700 employees and reported net sales of $243 million in 2019.

The lawmakers asked the companies to respond by last night and, if they intend to keep the money, offer a justification by Friday.

The other signatories were top Democratic Reps. Maxine Waters of California, Bill Foster of Illinois, Jamie Raskin of Maryland, Andy Kim of New Jersey, and Carolyn Maloney and Nydia Velázquez of New York. They also sent letters to the CEOs of Gulf Island Fabrication Inc., MiMedx Group and Quantum Corp.

A host of big companies came under fire last month for receiving PPP money, including several other energy firms.

One of those companies, Hallador Energy Co., has ties to former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. The news elicited backlash from environmentalists (Greenwire, April 21).

Rhino Resource Partners LP, a coal mining company previously led by Mine Safety and Health Administration chief David Zatezalo, also got a $10 million loan, and Ramaco Resources Inc., another coal mining company, got $8.4 million (Greenwire, May 1).

DMC Global Inc., an oil well services company that had received a $6.7 million loan under the program, told investors last month it had returned the entire value of the loan.

Amid the public uproar about some publicly traded, well-financed companies getting loans, the Small Business Administration issued a new set of guidelines on April 23 regarding which companies can participate, including new standards for determining whether the loan is "necessary."

DMC returned its loan that same day, citing the new guidelines, the company said in a disclosure to investors.

Democrats created the coronavirus select subcommittee over GOP objections. Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) will serve as the panel’s ranking member and blasted the Democrats’ letter to companies.

"It is outrageous and telling that the first action committee Democrats have taken is blindly sending harassing letters to individual companies that followed the law to keep their workers on the payroll — a law that each of their members on the committee voted for — rather than using their power to work with together on a bipartisan basis to help families safely get back to work, and start holding China accountable for the devastation they perpetrated on the American people," Scalise said in a statement.

"We hope Democrats will change course and spend as much time targeting, shaming, and investigating China as they do going after American workers and job creators."

Disclosure: E&E News has received funding from the Paycheck Protection Program.