Energy Secretary Steven Chu told Congress Thursday he was surprised and dismayed to see emails surface suggesting his department "pushed very hard" for Solyndra to delay announcing its first round of layoffs until after the midterm elections in November 2010.
"I was not part of that decision, and I certainly would not have been in favor of that decision," Chu told a House investigative committee. "I don't believe it's a proper way to do business."
Chu told Congress politics never played a role in the selection of the California company for the first Obama administration green energy loan, and he testified that he never felt pressure from the White House or from Obama campaign donors to pick Solyndra for a $535 million loan. The government-supported solar-panel manufacturer shut its doors earlier this year, laying off 1,100 workers. It is now the subject of multiple federal investigations.
"I want to be clear," Chu said. "Over the course of Solyndra's loan guarantee, I did not make any decision based on political considerations. My decision to guarantee a loan to Solyndra was based on the analysis of experienced professionals and on the strength of the information they had available to them at the time."Chu calmly answered questions from members of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee that has spent the past nine months investigating the loan. Chu told them repeatedly that the decision to dedicate more than half a billion dollars to the California manufacturing firm was a calculated risk, and a necessary part of building a robust new clean energy industry.
"It is extremely unfortunate what happened to Solyndra," he said. "Was there incompetence? Was there undue outside political influence? I would have to say no."
He said the decision to restructure the loan deal as the company was struggling was a tough decision, but one he felt was in the government's best interest. When asked if that decision was legal — even as it placed the government second in line behind private investors to recoup its losses during a bankruptcy — Chu defended his department.
"We believe there was no violation of the law," Chu said.
Yet the Energy secretary acknowledged the public has likely lost most of its investment. Asked how much of the $535 million the government may recoup in Solyndra’s bankruptcy, he replied: “Not very much.”
The loan to the California energy firm was at one time held up by the Obama administration as a model of the president's plan to infuse start-up clean energy firms with federal support in hopes of sprouting a vibrant new high-tech industry. But as iWatch News and ABC News first reported in March, the model first loan was emerging as a troubling example of a program that was taking big risks with public funds, and was in some instances benefitting investors who had strong political ties to Obama. One of the top investors in Solyndra, Oklahoma billionaire George Kaiser, was also a prolific fundraiser for Obama during the 2008 campaign.