Solyndra scandal probe widens as White House orders new review

Faced with a growing scandal over the bankrupt Solyndra solar power company, the Obama administration has ordered an independent review of government loans to energy companies. Republican lawmakers say they'll subpoena internal White House communications on Solyndra.

By , Staff writer

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    The headquarters of bankrupt Solyndra LLC in Fremont, California. The Obama administration has ordered an independent review of loans made by the Energy Department to energy companies.
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The Obama administration has ordered an independent review of loans made by the Energy Department to energy companies – a clear response to the controversial and now-bankrupt Solyndra Inc. solar energy company.

It’s the latest step in the face of growing criticism over the $528 million government loan to Solyndra, which was part of the administration’s economic stimulus package meant to advance green energy. Last month, FBI agents and investigators from the Department of Energy's Office of Inspector General searched Solyndra headquarters in California for documents and other information.

Heading the review announced Friday is former Treasury official Herbert Allison, who oversaw the Troubled Asset Relief Program, part of the 2008 Wall Street bailout.

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"Today we are directing that an independent analysis be conducted of the current state of the Department of Energy loan portfolio, focusing on future loan monitoring and management," White House chief of staff Bill Daley said Friday afternoon – the traditional time for burying announcements. "While we continue to take steps to make sure the United States remains competitive in the 21st century energy economy, we must also ensure that we are strong stewards of taxpayer dollars."

Announcement of the internal review of procedures dealing with Solyndra was not enough to satisfy congressional critics.

Leaders of the Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee on oversight and investigations say they’ll meet this coming week to consider a resolution authorizing the issuance of a subpoena for internal White House communications relating to the Solyndra loan guarantee.

“Subpoenaing the White House is a serious step that, unfortunately, appears necessary in light of the Obama administration’s stonewall on Solyndra,” Fred Upton (R) of Michigan and Cliff Stearns (R) of Florida said in a statement. “Since we launched the Solyndra investigation over eight months ago, the Obama administration has unfortunately fought us every step of the way, even forcing us to subpoena documents from [the White House Office of Management and Budget].”

Apparently, White House officials weren’t the only ones pushing special consideration for green energy.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah, who has criticized the Obama administration’s backing of Energy Department loan guarantees to Solyndra, pushed for more than $20 million in government funding for a clean energy firm in his home state, reports USA Today.

“Hatch aides [said] earlier this month that the Republican lawmaker had never pushed for taxpayer money to be used for Raser Technologies, which operated a geothermal power plant in southern Utah and also developed hybrid plug-in vehicles,” the newspaper reported Friday. “But on Friday, Hatch spokesman Matthew Harakal said that after an internal audit following publication of the USA Today story on Hatch's support for Raser, the Utah senator's office found that Hatch actually requested seven earmarks for more than $20 million from 2006 to 2008 to help fund research and development projects for the automotive wing of the company.”

None of the requests were funded, and Raser Technologies filed for bankruptcy in April.

Meanwhile, the Solyndra scandal – if that’s what it is – has indirectly touched at least one Republican presidential hopeful.

Mitt Romney is facing scrutiny this week for associating himself with a lobbyist whose firm worked for failed California solar panel company Solyndra,” The Hill newspaper in Washington reported this week. “Lobbyist Alex Mistri co-hosted a Romney fundraiser Wednesday that included a number of lobbyists and members of Congress, held at the American Trucking Association near Capitol Hill.”

Also attending the Romney fundraiser co-hosted by lobbyist Mistri was Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform investigating Solyndra.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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