Updated at 6:54 p.m. EDT.
Democrats would back a GOP subpoena to compel testimony from executives at government-backed solar firm Solyndra who plan to invoke their Fifth Amendment rights at a hotly anticipated oversight hearing tomorrow, according to the party's senior member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Addressing the decision by Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison and CFO Bill Stover to decline to answer lawmakers' questions about their company's three-week-old Chapter 11 filing -- six months after the Department of Energy agreed to restructure its half-billion-dollar federal loan guarantee -- Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said yesterday that panel Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) had further options at his disposal.
"There are things he can do, subpoenas he could issue" to secure sought-after testimony from Solyndra executives, Waxman told E&E Daily. "We'd support it."
The sight of Democrats joining Republicans to force testimony from Solyndra could hand more ammunition to GOP critics who have blasted the company's flameout as "crony capitalism" and slammed White House clean-energy loan guarantees as a politically motivated failure.
But Waxman drew a bright line between a potential subpoena of the company and a July edict that Republicans issued to the Office of Management and Budget for emails related to its review of the Solyndra loan guarantee -- a party-line subpoena that the Californian then lambasted as "an abuse" and "a fishing expedition" (Greenwire, July 13).
The OMB subpoena "seemed to me premature, because they were not taking advantage of what was being offered to them," Waxman said yesterday of committee Republicans. Asked if GOP panel members were now at the point of needing to compel more information to further a legitimate investigation, he said yes.
On Capitol Hill, the storm over Solyndra grows more intense by the day. The statement released by Stover and Harrison's attorneys on their plans to invoke Fifth Amendment rights raised fresh questions by linking the bankruptcy to DOE's nixing of a financing arrangement that could have secured last-ditch capital for the company but required significant government concessions (E&E Daily, Sept. 21).
Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), chief of Energy and Commerce's oversight subpanel, yesterday sent new letters requesting information on the loan guarantee from DOE and two venture capital firms that were among Solyndra's leading investors.
The latter inquiries homed in on simmering GOP questions about DOE's adherence to language in the 2005 energy bill that requires federal guarantees to stay "not subordinate to other financing." Republicans say that a February restructuring of the Solyndra loan, which effectively put private investors ahead of the government in line in the event of a bankruptcy, may have flouted that statute.
Yet before the solar executives face the national spotlight in the Energy and Commerce Committee tomorrow, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will convene a hearing that carries the incendiary promise of revealing "How Obama's Green Energy Agenda is Killing Jobs."
The oversight panel's top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, yesterday left the door open to supporting a potential Solyndra-related subpoena from GOP committee chief Darrell Issa of California.
"Each subpoena is an individual decision," Cummings told E&E Daily, adding that he believes lawmakers should "get to the bottom" of the solar company's demise.
Still, as environmentalists join Democrats in decrying what they call the hypocrisy of Solyndra's critics -- including Stearns -- pursuing DOE funding for other green projects in their districts, Cummings said that all political ties to local energy projects should go under the microscope. (See related story.)
A Waxman aide indicated that, because Solyndra executives would be able to invoke Fifth Amendment rights under a subpoena, Democrats likely would be positioned to support a subpoena for documents.