News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

House's 'No More Solyndras' Act Unlikely to Become Law

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill last week that would end the Department of Energy's Loan Guarantee program for renewable energy investment, but the highly partisan legislation is unlikely to become law. H.R. 6213, the so-called "No More Solyndras" act, passed the House in a 245-161 vote, with 22 Democrats crossing party lines to vote in favor, but the chances of its being taken up in the Senate -- let alone surviving an Oval Office veto -- are slim to none.

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The Democrats voting in favor of the bill included Californians Jerry McNerney and John Garamendi. California Republican Brian Bilbray voted against the bill. Garamendi's vote comes as a mild surprise: his support for renewable energy R&D investment has been historically strong. "This program, like all government programs, needs to be reviewed and modified to address problems," Garamendi told ReWire. "I will continue my work to strengthen energy independence, create clean energy jobs, and Make It In America."

Among other provisions, the bill calls for a complete end to loan guarantees under sections 1705 and 1703 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The core of that ban:

The Secretary of Energy shall not issue any new loan guarantee pursuant to Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (42 U.S.C. 17 16511 et seq.) for any application submitted to the Department of Energy after December 31, 2011.
The bill would also order the General Accounting Office to conduct a survey of all federal energy subsidies from 2003 to 2012, detailing the impacts of those subsidies on electrical power and transportation fuel prices as well as the economic fortunes of non-subsidies competitor firms, and to compare those results with the effects of energy subsidies by other countries.

The results of such a study would be interesting, and would almost certainly highlight the overwhelming participation of fossil fuel energy in such federal subsidies compared to renewables. It may well be that the mandate for the study was included in the bill because the Republican supporters knew the bill had little chance of being enacted, and they could claim to their constituents that they voted for the study while avoiding the results of the study actually being conducted.

Indeed, the entire bill is essentially a political broadside aimed at the Obama administration's renewable energy policy, one of the few areas in which the Republican electoral campaign seems not to be folding under its own weight. Approximately a third of the bill's text essentially repeats Republican talking points on the Solyndra issue, including allegations of political payback that the Republican House's own investigation of the issue failed to support. The first paragraph of the bill's text:

The Congress makes the following findings: (1) President Obama took office amidst a weak economy and high unemployment, yet he remained committed to advancing an expansive ''green jobs'' agenda that received substantial funding with the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, commonly known as the stimulus package.

House Republicans must be desperate to make this criticism stick, as the acknowledgement that the Obama administration inherited the ailing economy from its predecessor is one Republicans generally are loath to make.

This didn't go unremarked upon in the House floor debate over the bill. In a statement during deliberations, Michigan Democrat Sandy Levin minced no words:

The bill before the House is not a serious effort at legislating. Instead, once again, the Republican Majority is using Floor time to try and score political points.

Let's be honest about what's going on here. The legislation should include a disclaimer: "This bill supports the partisan, political interests of House Republicans, who approve this message."

Seldom has the nation faced such a backlog of serious problems, yet the Republican Leadership squanders time on political messaging bills like this one.

The Republicans fought back amendments that would have omitted the language alleging the Solyndra loan was politically driven, and allowed loan applications filed in 2012 to proceed.

Whether the Solyndra issue will prove to be more a more effective than other parts of the Republicans' disintegrating campaign remains to be seen. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Wednesday. That committee is now chaired by New Mexico's Senator Jeff Bingaman, a strong conservationist, who will not be seeking re-election in November. Unless the Republicans retake the house -- less than a one in five chance given recent polls -- it's unlikely Bingaman's successor will let the bill out of committee.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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