WASHINGTON -- Following months of investigations into Solyndra and other Department of Energy loans, one Republican lawmaker says his colleagues might be too caught up in trying to find a political smoking gun.
Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) was asked by Environment & Energy Daily's John McArdle if this were the case at a Wednesday appropriations subcommittee meeting about the Energy Department's Loan Programs Office's 2013 budget request. Simpson replied to McArdle, "Maybe," adding that he was reluctant to discuss the Solyndra issue at the hearing.
Solar technology firm Solyndra, which received a $535 million loan guarantee issued by the Department of Energy and was lauded by the Obama administration, abruptly declared bankruptcy last August, resulting in considerable controversy.
When The Huffington Post asked Simpson to elaborate on his comments, he responded by email, “I was trying to make a very simple point that while we look at the role politics might play in the Administration’s decision-making, perhaps we should also be looking at the role it plays in our own decision-making.”
“If we are going to have these loan programs, then I want politics removed from the decision-making process so we don’t end up with more Solyndras in the future," he added. "And if we are going to remove politics from the process, it is incumbent upon Members of Congress to reflect on their own actions as much as they reflect on the actions of others, including the Administration. I’m less interested in pointing fingers and more interested in protecting taxpayers from having this happen to them again in the future.”
Simpson also admitted during Wednesday's appropriations hearing amid questioning by David Frantz, acting executive director of the Department of Energy's Loan Programs Office, that he had routinely queried Frantz's predecessor about a $2 billion loan guarantee for AREVA for a "clean-energy" nuclear project in Idaho Falls. AREVA received a conditional commitment for a loan guarantee from the Department to Energy in May 2010.
Since the Department of Energy has to answer to Congress for its funding, the GOP lawmaker said he could understand how some people might see his repeated meetings with Energy Department representatives about the AREVA project as applying political pressure.
"Did I put undue influence on the administration?" Simpson asked at the hearing. "Maybe."
At the meeting, Frantz, however, assured Simpson the project had been approved on its merits.
Yet Simpson isn't the only GOP lawmaker who has sought special consideration from the department for his favored energy projects.
At least 10 Republicans on the the GOP-led House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, which spearheaded the Solyndra investigation, have signed letters aimed at landing green energy jobs in their districts, according to HuffPost's Mike McAuliff. The committee's Darrell Issa has written to Energy Secretary Steven Chu seeking help for clean-energy projects in his home state of California. And Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), an outspoken critic of the department’s loan guarantee program, has lobbied that very program about energy projects in his home state.
Simpson appears to suggest those lawmakers should examine their actions but he isn't apologizing for his own. “I am very comfortable with my support of the AREVA project because it is important to my district and my constituents,” Simpson told HuffPost in a statement.
“The point I was trying to make is that any act of support for a project can be perceived to be political and that’s why it is important that while we are examining the actions of others, we also examine our own actions," he added. "In the end, we should be more worried about how our actions impact the folks who pay the bills, the taxpayers, than we are about exploiting any situation for political gain.”