GOP says Energy Dept. tried to delay solar layoffs

November 16, 2011 - 11:05 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration wanted the failing solar energy company Solyndra to delay announcing employee layoffs last year until after the 2010 midterm elections, Republican investigators say.

A memo prepared by GOP staff at the House Energy and Commerce Committee cites an October 2010 email from an unnamed Solyndra investment adviser to another unidentified investment adviser. The email, according to committee aides, said Energy Department officials were pushing "very hard" to delay making the layoffs public until Nov. 3, 2010 — the day after the midterm elections.

"Oddly they didn't give a reason for that date," the memo quotes the e-mail as saying. The e-mail and others cited in the GOP memo were not released, although a spokeswoman for the committee said they were likely to be released later Wednesday.

Solyndra announced some layoffs on Nov. 3, 2010, after the election, but continued to receive federal assistance. The company, which received a $528 million federal loan in 2009, closed its doors on Aug. 31, 2011 and laid off its 1,100 workers.

Energy Department spokesman Damien LaVera on Tuesday declined to confirm events described in the emails or to identify who at the Energy department may have urged the delay in the layoff announcement. He said "decisions about this loan were made on the merits."

Energy Secretary Steven Chu is scheduled to testify before the House energy panel on Thursday.

Solyndra's implosion and revelations that administration officials rushed to complete the loan in time for a September 2009 groundbreaking have become an embarrassment for Obama and a rallying cry for GOP critics of his green energy program.

The Republican-controlled energy panel has subpoenaed White House communications on Solyndra and has released thousands of pages of emails related to the company.

Emails released last week show that top officials at the White House circulated a plan calling for Chu's ouster as the administration braced for a political storm brewing over Solyndra.

An email from a clean-energy activist and former official in Obama's 2008 campaign said that Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, was a brilliant man but "not perfect" for other critical DOE missions, including creating jobs.

A White House spokesman said the plan to oust Chu was not taken very seriously.