WASHINGTON — House Republicans advanced a bill Wednesday to sunset a controversial U.S. Department of Energy program that financed a failed Colorado solar panel maker.
By a 14-to-6 vote, a House Energy and Commerce subcomittee approved the “No More Solyndras Act.”
The legislation would end the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program except to those companies that had applied by Dec. 31, 2011.
Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma), the lone member of the Colorado congressional delegation on the panel, voted for the measure. After he voted to approve the bill, he said he was surprised that “Democrats continue to support the program despite what happened to Solyndra.”
The vote Wednesday came after a few national media outlets and House Republicans spent months investigating the reasons that Solyndra and other grantees, including Colorado-based Abound Solar declared bankruptcy after receiving tens of millions in federal loan guarantees.
Solyndra received $535 million in federal loan guarantees and Abound Solar spent some $70 million against a $400 million loan guarantee. Last year, Solyndra declared bankruptcy in September while Abound Solar collapsed suit last month.
On Wednesday, all but one House Republican on the subcommittee, Rep. Brian Bilbray of California, voted to phase out the program.
At the hearing, Democrats argued that ending the controversial loan guarantee program would be a mistake. They offered six amendments at the hearing Wednesday, but each amendment was defeated on near party-line votes.
Rep. Henry Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the full House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the program will allow clean-energy companies to find solutions to common environmental problems such as the drought afflicting the interior of the country, and slammed Republicans for denying the reality of global warming.
Other Democrats acknowledged the program has weaknesses but argued that its strengths have been overlooked. Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland said, “Nobody wants more Solyndras, but we don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water. This is a good program.”
Environmentalists and heavily subsidized solar industry have predictably thrown their support behind keeping the program. But they were outnumbered by taxpayer advocates and some energy groups who endorsed the legislation. The American Energy Alliance, American Conservative Union, and Citizens Against Government Waste lobbied for the bill.
Republicans on the subcommittee argued that sunsetting the program is the least they can do to protect taxpayers from squandering billions more. Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon said that “outside the 26 miles of the Beltway, $535 million is a lot of money. My (Democratic) friends from California want to spend money, but they’ve got cities in their state that have gone bankrupt. I don’t want to follow that model.”
Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield of Kentucky said he expects the full committee and the House to approve the bill when Congress returns from its summer recess in September.
Prospects for the bill are murkier in the Senate, where Democrats are in control.