Sen. Rand Paul Grills Energy Secretary on Obama Donors Receiving Alternative Energy Loans

Patrick Burke | March 13, 2012 | 3:35pm EDT
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FILE - In this Aug. 9, 2011 file photo, Sen. Rand Paul addresses a town hall meeting in Hartford, Ky. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke, File)

( – Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) grilled Energy Secretary Steven Chu Tuesday about the political nature of the administration making loans to alternative energy companies such as Solyndra.

Paul cited billionaire and Obama supporter George Kaiser’s involvement with the failed solar company.

“Are you concerned about the propriety of giving money, $500 million, to a billionaire [Kaiser] you know and then sort of changing the rules some so he gets to -- maybe gets a better deal than the taxpayers do?” Paul asked Chu at a hearing conducted by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Chu denied that any preference was given to Kaiser.

“I’m convinced, nothing I’ve seen in the loan program or anything in the White House that any connection that George Kaiser had with raising of money had anything to do with the selection of the loan,” Chu said.

The Energy Secretary assured the committee that the Energy Department has high standards regarding conflicts of interest and noted that the wife of a DOE employee who worked for Solyndra was "firewalled from having to do any business with Solyndra."

After reiterating the impropriety of an Obama supporter like Kaiser discussing Solyndra with the administration, Paul asked about the loan given to BrightSource, a green energy company owned by environmental attorney and Obama supporter Robert Kennedy Jr.

“Really, this revolving door from big business into the Department of Energy to get large loans,” Paul said. “$1.8 billion dollars is a lot of money, given once again to a large campaign contributor of the President’s. It looks unseemly.”

Throughout his testimony, Chu defended the importance of the DOE loan guarantee program and cited what he called the “proven track record” of wind and solar energy.

But Paul zeroed in on the role of government in lending money to energy projects: “Even though we’ve paid for the windmills -- we’ve got them up, we’ve got them started -- if you take away the subsidies, they’ll never make a profit. They just aren’t profitable. Talk about tilting at windmills, we’re just throwing money at windmills.”

“That’s sort of troubling though, that they [Solyndra] were the best case scenario and met all the criteria best and then they went bankrupt.”

Paul closed by saying the Obama administration won’t win “the perception war” regarding government loans to energy companies and advised against future DOE loans to alternative projects.

“My counseling and advice to you would be, let’s get out of this business,” Paul told Chu, adding that he didn’t question Chu’s character. “(B)ut the thing is that you’re overseeing something that really doesn’t pass the smell test.”

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