WASHINGTON — A House committee opened an investigative hearing Wednesday into a $535 million federal loan to a favored solar company by asking why the Obama administration sought to pour more taxpayer money into a company when the firm warned it was near collapse.
Republicans and Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee questioned the reasoning of the administration's decision earlier this year to help Solyndra restructure its debts and to release another $67 million to the troubled California-based company. Solyndra — once a centerpiece in President Barack Obama's initiative to develop clean-energy technologies — shuttered its plant two weeks ago, laying off 1,100 workers and leaving taxpayers on the hook for repaying the $535 million loan.
At the hearing, Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., chairman of the energy subcommittee on oversight and investigations, quoted from internal e-mails about federal officials' concerns of the company's financial viability and questioned two senior administration officials about why more public money was put on the line.
"I want to find out what happened to this money and who is responsible for putting these dollars at risk," Stearns told Jonathan Silver, head of the Energy Department's loan guarantee program, and Jeffrey Zients of the Office of Management and Budget.
On Aug. 31, Solyndra closed its doors and filed for bankruptcy protection. Days later, the FBI raided its plant and offices in Fremont, Calif., under a sealed search warrant.
Solyndra's biggest investors were funds operated on behalf of the family foundation of Tulsa, Okla., billionaire and Obama fundraiser George Kaiser. Kaiser has said he did not use political influence to win approval of the loan.
The White House has said that it had no involvement in the Solyndra loan application and that all decisions were made by career officials based on the merits of the company.