Solyndra Scandal Gets Even Worse for Obama Administration


Two weeks ago, the solar panel manufacturer Solyndra, heavily subsidized by the Feds, went bankrupt sticking taxpayers with $535 million in loan guarantees. My prescient colleague Tim Cavanaugh notes earlier today:

A bankrupt green energy company will create both real and political problems for President Obama today, as the U.S. House of Representatives continues its investigation into how Fremont, California-based Solyndra LLC used its access to the president and his inner circle in order to secure and lose half a billion taxpayer dollars. …

Shortly after Solyndra announced its bankruptcy, I made the none-too-daring prediction that this scandal would prove to be durable. The figure of a half-billion dollars is easy to understand yet still incomprehensibly large. There is no distance between the president and the scandal. And the company name is memorably goofy enough that there's no need to add the lame suffix "-gate." 

And durable it is. The Washington Post is reporting on the front page today that a collection of internal emails shows that the White House pushed the Office of Management and Budget to ignore its standard vetting procedures and sign off on the project:

The Obama White House tried to rush federal reviewers for a decision on a nearly half-billion-dollar loan to the solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra so Vice President Biden could announce the approval at a September 2009 groundbreaking for the company's factory, newly obtained e-mails show.

The Silicon Valley company, a centerpiece in President Obama's initiative to develop clean energy technologies, had been tentatively approved for the loan by the Energy Department but was awaiting a final financial review by the Office of Management and Budget. …

Solyndra was a favorite of the administration until two weeks ago, when the company abruptly shuttered its factory and filed for bankruptcy court protection, leaving 1,100 people out of work and taxpayers on the hook for the loans. Last week, FBI agents searched the company's Silicon Valley headquarters in a raid that Miller said appeared linked to the loan guarantee.

In one e-mail, an assistant to Rahm Emanuel, then White House chief of staff, wrote on Aug. 31, 2009, to OMB about the upcoming Biden announcement on Solyndra and asked whether "there is anything we can help speed along on OMB side."

An OMB staff member responded: "I would prefer that this announcement be postponed. .?.?. This is the first loan guarantee and we should have full review with all hands on deck to make sure we get it right."

In another message, a White House staff member wrote that officials were "walking a fine line with Solyndra needing to begin notifying investors to fly in" for the groundbreaking. It stressed that "this OMB piece" of the review was not final and pointed out that if word of the groundbreaking leaked to the public prematurely, that would "leave us in an awkward place."

The e-mails also raise questions about whether the administration should have foreseen financial trouble. In August 2009, e-mail exchanges between Energy Department staff members pointed out that a credit-rating agency predicted that the project would run out of cash in September 2011. Solyndra shut its doors on the final day of August.

Notice that last line—Solyndra went bankrupt right on time. 

Solyndra is turning out to be a textbook case of how crony capitalism operates (and fails). 

See other Reason commentary on this case herehere, and here