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Wash. Post Fact Checker On Sec. Chu's DoE Loan Program Statements: "Three Pinocchios" | Missouri Political News Service

Wash. Post Fact Checker On Sec. Chu’s DoE Loan Program Statements: “Three Pinocchios”‏

November 21st, 2011 by mopns · No Comments

Last week, Energy Secretary Stephen Chu testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations about the $535 million taxpayer loan to the bankrupt solar power company Solyndra and other Energy Department loans.

Reporting on Chu’s testimony, The Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein noted, “Chu acknowledged before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight panel that if he knew in September 2009 what he knows now, he never would have authorized the $535 million loan guarantee to solar panel manufacturer Solyndra, which ended up going bankrupt. But he said he was making the decision based on the information available to him at the time. Earlier in the hearing, asked how much money taxpayers could hope to recover from the failed company, Chu said it ‘remains to be seen’ but acknowledged it would be ‘not very much.’”

Meanwhile, Glenn Kessler, who writes The Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog, caught a couple of statements by Secretary Chu that he found questionable. Kessler noted Chu claimed, “Through the loan programs, the Energy Department is supporting 38 clean energy projects that are expected to employ more than 60,000 Americans . . . .” And, Kessler writes, “[Chu] also made the case that the collapse in solar panel prices — which helped sink Solyndra — was ‘totally unexpected’ by most financial analysts at the time when the department went forward with the loan in 2009.”

On Chu’s jobs claim, Kessler points out, “We always warn readers to be wary of claims about the number of jobs created by some government, congressional or corporate initiative. These are almost always suspect and based on dubious assumptions. . . . As it happens, Carol D. Leonnig and Steven Mufson of The Washington Post examined the job-claim figure two months ago and found it wanting. ‘The program — designed to jump-start the nation’s clean technology industry by giving energy companies access to low-cost, government-backed loans — has directly created 3,545 new, permanent jobs after giving out almost half the allocated amount, according to Energy Department tallies,’ they reported on The Post’s front page. . . . [I]f you dig deeper into the 60,000 number, you find that more than half of it comes from a single program — 33,000 jobs at Ford that were supposedly converted to green technology because of a $5.9 billion loan. The Energy Department translated those as “saved” jobs, even though the number amounts to nearly half of Ford’s total workforce. . . .  The Post article had quoted an economist as saying that the 33,000 job estimate for Ford appeared to be the result of “fuzzy math.” Ford spokeswoman Meghan Keck was quoted as saying that the loan provided flexibility in manufacturing that was key to “helping retain” the jobs. That’s pretty fuzzy language for “saved” and in fact appears to relate more to job security than anything else. Translation: A plant that once had a single truck line would now be able to create four different vehicles, allowing jobs to be shifted as demand changed.”

Examining Chu’s claims that the collapse in solar panel prices was “totally unexpected,” Kessler finds, “Chu’s other quote — concerning the unexpected collapse in solar prices — is also open to question. . . . [T]he shakiness in the market was readily apparent at the time DOE pressed the White House budget office to sign off on the Solyndra loan. Note the Aug. 31, 2009 e-mail below, from an Office of Management and Budget official to a DOE official, asking that an announcement of the loan be postponed. The e-mail includes links to articles with headlines like ‘As Prices Slump, Solar Industry Suffers.’ . . . One article mentioned in the e-mail noted that prices had already dropped 40 percent since the middle of the previous year, and ‘many experts expect panel prices to fall further, though not by another 40 percent.’ (It did.)”

Kessler concludes that “the job number” is “inflated by the inclusion of the loan to Ford.” He says, “As we have demonstrated, these are not new jobs or even saved jobs — just people who might, just maybe, have a little more job security, in part because of the loan. Chu’s comments on the unexpected “tsunami” that hit Solyndra are also troubling. The OMB e-mail shows that at least one arm of the government was aware that Wall Street was quickly souring on solar energy and that the tsunami that swept the industry should not have been such a surprise.”

Kessler’s verdict on Chu’s claims? “Three Pinocchios.”


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