“Can’t escape from the common rule: If you hate something, don’t you do it too.” — Pearl Jam
Playing up the Solyndra bankruptcy to the highest political degree possible, Republicans are using their best rhetorical tricks. They have homed in on two phrases to describe loan guarantees — calling them a tool of “crony capitalism” and claiming that they allow the government “to pick winners and losers.”
Practically every conservative politician speaking to the press about Solyndra has used these phrases, often in the exact same sentence.
But a Climate Progress examination of public Department of Energy data finds over $11.8 billion in conditional commitments or closed loan guarantees for renewable energy and nuclear projects in Republican House districts around the country.
The data does not prove whether individual members of Congress lobbied for support of specific projects. However, recent stories from the Associated Press and the New York Timesshow that a number of high-profile political leaders have helped secure grants and loan guarantees through the stimulus package for projects in their districts. AP highlighted a few of the contradictions in a story yesterday:
Louisiana Sen. David Vitter and other Republicans have criticized the Obama administration for awarding billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for renewable energy projects, including a $528 million loan to a now-bankrupt California solar panel maker. But the GOP lawmakers haven’t always been so critical of the program.
Documents obtained by The Associated Press show the Louisiana Republican wrote to the Energy Department at least seven times since 2009 seeking money for projects that would benefit his home state.
One of the projects backed by Vitter — for a company that makes activated carbon to reduce pollution at coal-fired power plants — has received preliminary approval for a $245 million loan guarantee.
Numerous GOP senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have sent letters to the Energy Department seeking assistance for projects in their home states.
On the Senate floor last week, McConnell called the first stimulus law “a national punch line” that featured “turtle tunnels” and “ sidewalks to nowhere.”
But in 2009, McConnell wrote two letters to Energy Secretary Steven Chu asking for federal loans for a plant that would build electric cars in Franklin, Ky. McConnell said the loans said could help create 4,000 jobs.
“I hope you will realize the importance of such job creation to Kentucky,” he wrote in a July 2009 letter supporting ZAP Motor Manufacturing. The plant did not receive DOE money.
And Florida Republican Cliff Stearns, who is also leading an investigation into the Solyndra loan guarantee, backed two separate clean energy projects for his state:
Stearns, who heads the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations, endorsed a battery manufacturing plant in Jacksonville. The Saft America Inc. plant makes lithium-ion battery cells for military hybrid vehicles and solar and wind energy storage. The plant received a $95.5 million grant from the Energy Department through the stimulus law.
Stearns and other lawmakers from Florida also backed a Florida company’s bid to win a loan guarantee for biofuel refinery plant in central Florida. New Planet BioEnergy LLC received $50 million from the Energy Department and a $75 million loan guarantee from the Agriculture Department.
McConnell, Stearns and Vitter are defending themselves by explaining that the companies they’ve supported haven’t gone bankrupt or been raided by the FBI. Fair enough. But their lobbying for funds in the cleantech sector completely undermines the argument that Democrats are trying to pick winners and losers — or that the stimulus package didn’t work.
And as we pointed out last week, Michigan Republican Fred Upton, chairman of one of the House committees investigating Solyndra, has been a strong supporter of nuclear loan guarantees — even sponsoring an amendment in 2007 that would have expanded the nuclear loan guarantee program by $4 billion. Yet, Upton claimed in a hearing on Solyndra that the government is “acting as venture capitalist” that is, of course, “picking winners and losers…and shelling out billions in taxpayer dollars to keep them afloat.”
As one of the strongest nuclear supporters in Congress, Upton surely understand that nuclear facilities would not get built in this country without billions of dollars in loan guarantees and government-backed insurance. Private industry wouldn’t even consider building a nuclear facility in America without full government support (see also Exelon’s Rowe: Low gas prices and no carbon price push back nuclear renaissance a “decade, maybe two”).
And California Republican Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, dropped a typical rhetorical bomb on CSPAN this morning: “I want to see when the president and his cronies are picking winners and losers.”
But Issa has no problem boosting government support for nuclear through loan guarantees — a policy that supposedly picks winners and losers.
[A]dapting our tax structure to incentivize investments in nuclear technologies and using the guarantee of the federal government to jump-start a robust nuclear energy program, we can reclaim our place in the world and reduce our dependence on carbon-rich fossil fuels.
Forget crony capitalism. What we have here is phony capitalism.
A number of leading Republicans have repeatedly sought grants, tax credits and loan guarantees to support projects in their own districts. But when it’s politically advantageous, they now make the claim that government is “picking winners and losers” and violating the free market.
We all want to see taxpayer funds deployed as efficiently and fairly as possible. Solar energy issoaring in this country and around the world, which suggests governmental support for the industry is working in a lot of countries. The nuclear industry has all but died in non-market economies, in spite of massive government support (see “Nuclear Pork — Enough is Enough“). Which one is the winner and which is the loser?
— Matt Kasper of the Center for American Progress contributed to this report.
This story was originally published at ClimateProgress.org and was cross-posted with permission.
Stephen Lacey is a reporter/blogger for Climate Progress, where he writes on clean energy policy, technologies, and finance. Before joining CP, he was an editor/producer with RenewableEnergyWorld.com. He received his B.A. in journalism from Franklin Pierce University.