WASHINGTON — Energy Secretary Steven Chu is a physicist, not a politician, but he was unflappable under attack from Republicans and refused to apologize for a $535 million loan guarantee given to now-bankrupt solar equipment maker Solyndra.
In his first appearance before Congress since the Solyndra controversy broke nearly three months ago, Chu firmly pushed back against allegations that political favoritism and bureaucratic incompetence led his agency to approve the Solyndra loan guarantee.
"Was there incompetence?" Chu said in response to Michigan Republican Fred Upton's request for an apology. "Was there any influence of a political nature? So I would say no."
Chu is the highest-level administration member to testify about his agency's role in the decision to back the Fremont, Calif., manufacturer, which closed in August.
Chu said he knew few of the details about Solyndra until the company began to falter late last year and needed its loan guarantee restructured. Many of the decisions about the loan were made by career civil servants, emails have shown.
During his testimony, he made clear that he had little hope of recovering most of the money backed by the Energy Department's guarantee.
Solyndra was once the darling of the venture capital world, collecting accolades from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Wall Street Journal and more than $1 billion in private investment for its innovative solar technology.
Chu said the company failed after demand for solar equipment slackened and panel prices plummeted from the effects of China's heavy subsidies for its own manufacturers. House Republicans say Chu should have seen such a fall coming.
Republicans have insisted Solyndra received its federal guarantee because its biggest investors included a major Obama campaign donor, George Kaiser. Kaiser has denied ever speaking to the administration about Solyndra.
The White House has authorized an independent investigation of the loan guarantee program.