The Obama administration is hastening to defend its loan guarantee to Solyndra, the now-bankrupt solar panel manufacturer, as a risky but necessary play if the government is to succeed in boosting a nascent high-tech industry. But they are also bracing themselves for the possible failure of other green-tech companies that took government aid to get off the ground.
Those concerns are laid out in emails released to Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government, who has demanded documents related to all the firms that got loan's on the final day of the Energy Department's loan program, First Solar, SunPower, and ProLogis. Some of the other recipients of federal aid might make Solyndra look like a decent bet, an agency official wrote, according to ABC News.
“(W)hat’s terrifying is that after looking at some of the ones that came next, this one started to look better,” the official emailed. “Bad days are coming.”
Issa now charges that the administration rushed the last of its funding for environmental technology companies out the door before its loan program expired. The administration disputes that, The Wall Street Journal reported.
An Energy Department spokesman, Damien LaVera, said every application underwent many months of due diligence. "We did not rush to close any deals before the Sept. 30 deadline," he said. "We used the full amount of time Congress allocated for the program so we can ensure that we fully complete all due diligence."
He added, "We are confident that supporting these projects will help American companies compete in the global clean-energy market."
But there may be lasting fallout from those efforts, and less patience than the administration anticipated for the investments that, inevitably, might not pan out. For every defense of government investment in new technologies — like this from Juan Williams, who says Republicans are "more interested in making President Obama a one-term president than in creating or protecting American jobs" — there's a renewed push to get the government out of the business of "picking winners and losers."
The Wall Street Journal editorial board advances that argument:
The emerging sophisticated defense of Solyndra is Mr. Obama's suggestion that if China subsidizes its industries "of the future," then we must too. But in a free-market economy, which America used to be, private investors decide which industries will succeed in the future, and bet their own money on it. The proper role for government is to support basic research, not commercial ventures that become exercises in taxpayer risk but private reward.
And the rest of us wait to see what other investments, good or bad, are out there. Darrell Issa, rest assured, will make them famous.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.