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GOP lawmakers once sought energy loans that they now criticize

WASHINGTON — Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and other Republicans have criticized the Obama administration for awarding billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for renewable energy projects, including a $528 million loan to now-bankrupt California solar panel maker Solyndra Inc. But the GOP lawmakers haven't always been so critical of the program.

Documents obtained by the Associated Press show Vitter wrote to the Energy Department at least seven times since 2009, urging approval of a loan for Red River Environmental Products, saying the Coushatta, La., company could help meet a growing demand for products that help power plants comply with stricter federal regulation of mercury emissions.

One of the projects backed by Vitter — for a company that makes activated carbon to reduce pollution at coal-fired power plants — has received preliminary approval for a $245 million loan guarantee.

Many GOP senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have sent letters to the Department of Energy seeking assistance for projects in their home states.

In 2009, McConnell wrote two letters to Energy Secretary Steven Chu asking for federal loans for a ZAP Motor Manufacturing plant that would build electric cars in Franklin, Ky. McConnell said the loans said could help create 4,000 jobs. The plant did not receive DOE money.

Rep. Cliff Stearns, a Republican from Ocala, who chairs a subcommittee that is investigating the Solyndra deal, also has supported projects that promote green jobs.

Stearns, who heads the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations, endorsed a battery manufacturing plant in Jacksonville. The Saft America Inc. plant makes lithium-ion battery cells for military hybrid vehicles and solar and wind energy storage. The plant received a $95.5 million grant from the Energy Department through the stimulus law.

Saft received a federal grant, not a taxpayer-guaranteed loan, Stearns said. "I had no role in Saft securing that grant; there is no indication that Saft, a French company, is financially troubled; and it has not been raided by the FBI," as Solyndra was.

Executives won't answer at hearing

Chief executive officer Brian Harrison and chief financial officer W.G. Stover of bankrupt California solar energy company Solyndra Inc. sent letters to the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday informing them that while they intend to appear before the committee on Friday, they will invoke their Fifth Amendment rights and refuse to answer questions. The committee is investigating a $528 million loan Solyndra received from the Energy Department in 2009. The company since has declared bankruptcy and laid off its 1,100 workers.

GOP lawmakers once sought energy loans that they now criticize 09/20/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 11:27pm]
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