Green Pigs Don't Fly
Reportedly, Obama's jobs speech will focus on infrastructure spending, and much of that spending will undoubtedly be tied to the creation of "green jobs." The problem is, what he has already spent has not created jobs. According to the Heritage Foundation, it may well have cost jobs. It has, however, enriched some of his wealthiest political contributors. And that seems to be the real motive behind the president's infrastructure spending. Not green jobs, but green pork.
That appears to be the case with Obama's $535-million loan guarantees to Solyndra Inc. During a 2010 visit to Solyndra's plant in Fremont, California, Obama insisted that the solar panel company would create "one thousand long-term jobs." Solyndra has since declared bankruptcy, and it seems unlikely that the taxpayer will recover any of the $535 million in loans.
The half-billion that Obama threw away on Solyndra is only a small part of $60 billion earmarked for alternative energy in Obama's 2009 stimulus bill, and that $60 billion is only a fraction of the $100 billion that Energy Secretary Stephen Chu envisions "investing" in alternative energy. Solyndra is not the only green jobs company to receive stimulus funding -- hundreds of them did. And dozens of them have gone bankrupt already, including Evergreen Solar, taking billions of taxpayer money with them.
The GAO's Franklin Rusco has raised questions about the transparency and rigor of the approval process for the Solyndra loan guarantees. It has been suggested that the White House took a special interest in Solyndra during the loan guarantee application process, monitoring the process, and perhaps communicating with officials in charge.
That should be a question for congressional investigations, and thankfully the investigations have begun. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce is seeking White House documents regarding Obama's role in obtaining the loan guarantees for Solyndra. So far, the White House has stonewalled, refusing to supply the requested documents.
Reportedly, Solyndra CEO Christian M. Gronet, who received ten million stock options on the same day the $535-million loan guarantee was approved, donated to "Friends of Barbara Boxer" in 2009/2010. According to other reports, Tulsa billionaire George Kaiser, a prominent Obama campaign contributor and bundler, was a major Solyndra investor as well. It is an open question as to whether political contributions from Solyndra executives and investors influenced the administration's decision to back the loans.
The latest green power company to receive federal loan guarantees is SoloPower Inc., which just this month revived a $197-million loan guarantee to build a solar film factory in Oregon. The initial phase of the project, funded with the help of the federal loans, along with $40 million in loans and tax credits from the state of Oregon, is expected to create 170 new jobs, according to company projections. By my calculation, that is $1.4 million per job -- not exactly a bargain for taxpayers who will then also have to pay higher fuel bills as a result of green energy mandates.
Before coming to SoloPower, CEO Tim Harris was a successful executive at Seagate Technology, where he is credited with setting up an operation creating 15,000 jobs. Those jobs were not in America, however; they were in Malaysia, the same country where First Solar, another major recipient of Obama loan guarantees, has located most of its new jobs.
In fact, Obama's green energy stimulus has done more for job-creation in Malaysia and China than it will ever do in the U.S. Under Obama's massive loan guarantee program, the American taxpayer has footed a $60-billion bill largely for Asian job creation.
Ironically -- or perversely -- the president is doing everything possible to kill off the one industry that is producing jobs that cannot be exported to Asia. America possesses vast new reserves of oil and gas that can be developed only with American labor. If only the administration would rescind unnecessary regulation, those jobs would double virtually overnight. Not only that, but federal and state royalty collections would double as well, and the U.S. trade balance would stabilize as less oil and gas was imported. But so far, the president continues to press for more taxes on conventional energy companies. And never at any time has it occurred to him that it might be in the national interest to support energy independence by making it easier for American energy companies to drill right here in America.
The White House continues to insist that the $60 billion in alternative energy funding, along with tens of billions approved in other legislation, was a wise "investment." Most real investors, having lost billions on alternative energy, would shy away from solar and wind projects. But Obama continues to throw money away. In September alone, the president approved an additional $622 million in loan guarantees for solar companies. Even Democrats like Senator Jeff Bingaman admit that Obama's loan guarantees "have not worked." Yet Bingaman himself introduced a bill to fund a "clean-energy bank" to make more loans to the same kind of companies. Apparently, Bingaman's logic is, "It doesn't work, so let's do it again."
That seems to be the rationale for Obama's latest green jobs initiative. Bingaman is asking for $10 billion for his clean-energy bank. I'm sure Obama will top that by a couple hundred billion. That funding, if approved, will disappear into the pockets of Democratic Party supporters, just as surely as it has in the past, though much of it will be passed along to Democratic candidates in the 2012 elections. If that sounds like "pay to play," you can draw your own conclusions.
After all, the guiding principle behind Obama's green jobs initiative all along has been how much it will contribute to his own reelection. The fantasy of green jobs presented him with a unique opportunity to please environmentalist supporters while at the same time rewarding wealthy contributors who also happen to be investors and executives in alternative energy companies.
It is unlikely that Obama will ever desert this winning combination, even as his scandalous relationship with one bankrupt company after another comes to light. No matter how many billions end up being wasted, the president will continue to insist, as did an official at the Department of Energy just last week, that the green jobs program "is on pace to create thousands of jobs." Already Obama has spent as much as $10 million each for the thousands of green jobs, he claims to have created. Is there no limit, and no shame?
Actually, there is not. Because more important than actual green jobs is green pork. Obama is relying on green pork, along with union pork and trial lawyer pork, to get him reelected. Green jobs are at the heart of his domestic agenda because green pork results in donations to the Democratic Party. Whether it results in any jobs, to say nothing of "long-term" jobs, is irrelevant. It's his own job that Obama is focused on saving.
Jeffrey Folks is author of many books and articles on American culture, most recently Heartland of the Imagination (2011).