House committee rejects efforts to end DOE loan program

On a bipartisan vote of 3-39, the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Aug. 1 rejected a proposed amendment to terminate the U.S. Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program.

“With this vote, the Department receives a strong bipartisan signal that it should continue its mission to help capital-intensive clean energy projects move forward,” said a statement from the Democratic majority on the committee. “This will enhance the nation’s global competitiveness and promote the development of low carbon energy technology. The amendment to terminate the program was offered by Rep. Markey in order to test whether the Republicans actually wanted to end the program. Twenty five Republicans voted against the amendment, which would have terminated the program.”

“If cynicism was an Olympic sport, Republicans would win the gold today for their legislative backflips,” said Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass. “Democrats oppose terminating the loan guarantee program, and despite Republican rhetoric, we’ve known all along that they’ve opposed terminating it in order to protect the $32.5 billion for nuclear and fossil loan guarantees. We’ve called the Republican’s bluff today, and they are now on the record in their opposition to ending the loan guarantee program despite their statements to the contrary.”

Ranking Member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said: “The Republicans have spent the last year and a half making wild accusations. Their investigation of the loan guarantee program turned up no wrongdoing, but that didn’t stop their rhetoric from getting more and more extreme. Today’s vote reveals the truth. The Republican rhetoric does not match reality. Most members of Congress simply do not want to terminate the loan guarantee program.”

In essence, the Democrats offered this amendment, even though they didn’t actually support it, to put the GOP on the record in support of the DOE program.

The DOE loan guarantee program has already had major successes in supporting new, innovative technologies, said the Democratic majority statement. The projects financed by this program are expected to support nearly 60,000 jobs and save nearly 300 million gallons of gasoline per year. The program is funding one of the world’s largest wind farms, the world’s largest concentrated solar generation project, the world’s largest solar power plant and the nation’s first two all-electric vehicle manufacturing facilities.

GOP hits again at the Solyndra solar bankruptcy

The Republican majority on the committee, chaired by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chose to tout in its own points in an Aug. 1 statement that the committee had advanced H.R. 6213, the “No More Solyndras Act.” The committee approved the measure by a bipartisan vote of 29 to 19. Incidentally, though the Democratic and Republican statements vary widely from each other, they are on the same bill, H.R. 6213. The Democratic statement didn’t mention Solyndra or other points brought up by the GOP majority in their statement.

The “No More Solyndras Act” is a product of the committee’s investigation into DOE’s $535m loan guarantee to Solyndra, the California solar panel manufacturer that ultimately went bankrupt last summer. The committee’s investigation found DOE’s loan guarantee program to be poorly managed and lacking sufficient safeguards for American taxpayers. In fact, three of the first five companies that received a loan guarantee under Section 1705 have filed for bankruptcy, the committee majority said.

The new act will effectively terminate the mismanaged loan guarantee program by prohibiting any new applications. The legislation will also provide taxpayers with strong new protections for already pending participants, including increased due diligence, new transparency requirements, and the prohibition of taxpayer subordination, said the GOP statement.

“This bill recognizes both our current fiscal challenges and our understanding that the federal government is ill-suited to be gambling the taxpayers’ dollars with this sort of company-specific investment,” said Upton. “We are strong supporters of ‘all-of-the-above’ when it comes to American energy, and our considerable interest in research and development will continue to foster innovation and new technologies.”

The committee approved the legislation after adopting amendments from Reps. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, and Tim Murphy, R-Pa., requiring the Government Accountability Office to complete a study of U.S. and foreign subsidies in energy markets. The committee also adopted an amendment to reaffirm the prohibition of subordination and an amendment from Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, to increase penalties for senior federal employees and federal appointees who violate any requirements of the Title XVII loan guarantee program.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.