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House passes bill to limit Solyndra-style loan guarantees

By Danielle Ryan, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — The Republican-controlled House approved a bill Friday that would limit the Energy Department’s power to issue loan guarantees for new green-energy projects, a move stemming from the controversy over the failure of California solar equipment maker Solyndra.

The so-called No More Solyndras Act is the Republicans’ response to the collapse of Solyndra two years after it received a $535 million loan guarantee from the Obama administration. The measure was approved 245-161, mostly along party lines.

The bill would limit federal loan guarantees on projects for which companies file applications starting next year. But it would not halt any applications submitted before the end of this year.

The bill will now go to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it has little chance of passing.

Some conservative groups claim that the Republican bill does not go far enough to prevent future Solyndra-like failures.

Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan budget watchdog, said although the bill did have “some merits” and was a step forward, it ultimately missed the mark by protecting as many as 50 projects still in the pipeline.

William Yeatman, a policy analyst for the conservative-leaning Competitive Enterprise Institution, questioned whether the Energy Department was “running an investment bank.”

During heated debate on the House floor Friday, Democrats argued that Republicans have continued to use the failure of Solyndra as a political tool against the Obama administration in the run-up to the presidential election.

Republicans had been “dancing on the grave of Solyndra” for too long, Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., said.

Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., said although Solyndra did not achieve its goals, other projects funded by the program did.

“Not every investment works out, as the private sector well knows” and “one failure is not a valid reason to condemn the entire DOE loan guarantee program,” she said.

Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., called the measure nothing but an attempt by Republicans to “keep the word Solyndra in the news.”

Democrats also pointed out that the bill as drafted would let $76.5 billion in nuclear projects favored by the Republicans go forward. Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., called it “one of the greatest political frauds of all time.”

Republicans fired back, claiming that the administration missed a number of red flags that ultimately could have prevented the debacle.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said the bill “puts the brakes on the Obama administration’s habit” of trying to play the role of a venture capitalist.

Some Republicans believed that the quick approval of the Solyndra loan was a political payoff to George Kaiser, a major fundraiser for President Barack Obama who was one of the main investors in Solyndra.

In early 2011, as it became clear that Solyndra was struggling, Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee launched an investigation into the administration’s handling of the loan-guarantee approval process.

Although the panel found no evidence of wrongdoing, it revealed that the administration did pressure officials to make the final decision on the loan guarantee quickly, even while concerns were being raised about the Fremont, Calif., company’s cost structure.

The restructuring of Solyndra’s loan guarantee in early February 2011 ensured that private investors such as Kaiser would be repaid before the taxpayers if Solyndra failed.

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