U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu is in the spotlight on Capitol Hill today, facing questions from Congress about his involvement with bankrupt solar power company Solyndra. Chu leads the agency that gave Solyndra a $535 million loan guarantee in 2009, and later restructured it, only to see the company fail this summer.
Critics have accused the Obama administration of approving the loan too hastily, and some even allege political motivations. A House panel led by Reps. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., and Fred Upton, R-Mich., is investigating what happened, and it's hosting Chu today to help.
In prepared testimony released late Wednesday, Chu takes the blame for approving the loan, but argues it's a mistake the U.S. can and must learn from.
"As the Secretary of Energy, the final decisions on Solyndra were mine, and I made them with the best interest of the taxpayer in mind," Chu says in the testimony. "I want to be clear: 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.
"While we are disappointed in the outcome of this particular loan, we support Congress' mandate to finance the deployment of innovative technologies, and believe that our portfolio of loans does so responsibly," he adds. "The Energy Department is committed to continually improving and applying lessons learned in everything we do, because the stakes could not be higher for our country."
Upton and other House Republicans claim the Obama administration lacks transparency about Solyndra, and earlier this month issued a rare subpoena for the White House to release more documents. Stearns said he would also like to see President Obama's BlackBerry, in case it contains any messages related to Solyndra.
"If the White House has nothing to hide, they should cooperate with this investigation and produce the documents," Stearns said at a Nov. 3 meeting of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. "I believe the president owes it to the American people to explain in detail what happened to their tax money."
In his testimony for Thursday's hearing, Chu disputes the argument that his department hasn't been forthcoming, or that it has anything to hide.
Noting that such loan guarantees can help U.S. solar companies keep up with China — which is "playing to win in the solar industry" — Chu also makes sure to point out the practice has plenty of supporters on Capitol Hill. "We appreciate the support the loan programs have received from many members of Congress — including nearly 500 letters to the Department — who have urged us to accelerate our efforts and to fund worthy projects in their states," he says.
Check back here for updates later in the day. See the UStream feed below for live video of the proceedings, and check out the video below that to watch Chu's opening testimony:
Also on MNN:
- Video: Solar execs face grilling from Congress
- House GOP subpoenas White House on Solyndra
- What Solyndra means for solar power