Energy Secretary Steven Chu firmly pushed back against Republican allegations that political favoritism and bureaucratic incompetence led his agency to approve a $535-million loan guarantee to Solyndra, in a much-anticipated appearance by the highest level Obama administration member so far before congressional investigators looking into the failed solar equipment maker.
A Nobel-prize-winning physicist and Washington outsider, Chu remained as unflappable as any seasoned Washington politico while parrying often-repetitive questions for more than four hours from the oversight subcommittee of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. During his testimony, Chu made clear that he had little hope of recovering most of the money backed by the Energy Department’s guarantee.
Republicans have insisted that Solyndra received more than half a billion in federal loan guarantees because its biggest investors are backed by a major Obama campaign donor, George Kaiser. Kaiser has denied ever speaking to the administration about Solyndra. Republicans have pointed to administration emails suggesting that concerns were raised about Solyndra’s health for years within the administration and have contended that those warnings went ignored, which the administration also denied.
The hearing was a chance for Republicans to suggest that perhaps Chu should resign, an idea he brushed aside. Several also tried to elicit an apology from Chu for the fact that taxpayers have now lost more than a half-billion dollars. He declined.
“Was there incompetence?” Chu said in response to a request for an apology. “Was there any influence of a political nature? So I would say no. It is extremely unfortunate what has happened to Solyndra.”