President Joe Biden’s green energy loan czar struggled to explain his relationship with a trade association he founded that has been selling companies access to him at paid private events, during a Senate Energy Committee hearing on Thursday.
Since 2022, Jigar Shah, the head of the Department of Energy’s $400 billion Loan Programs Office, has headlined at least 10 paid dinners and events for loan-seeking companies hosted by Cleantech Leaders Roundtable, a green tech trade group that he founded in 2017, the Washington Free Beacon reported earlier this month.
Shah’s DOE office and Cleantech Leaders also co-hosted an invitation-only conference in Washington, D.C., for companies looking for loans in early October—and Cleantech Leaders was in charge of the invite list and ticket sales.
Shah appeared flustered when questioned about the relationship and was left speechless at one point in the hearing. His testimony comes as Republican lawmakers and the DOE inspector general are ramping up investigations into conflicts of interest at the Loan Programs Office, a previously small department whose influence and funding has ballooned under the Biden administration.
Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.), the top Republican on the committee, told Shah that the paid events were a "very bad look for you personally and a very bad look for the Department of Energy," arguing that it gave the appearance that Shah was helping his former trade group sell access to him.
Barrasso highlighted a social media post from Cleantech Leader Roundtable’s executive director last year, which touted Shah’s control over a $400 billion loan budget authorized by the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act.
"Hundreds of Billions $$$$$$," wrote Cleantech Leaders’s executive director in the post. "We love Jigar Shah for that and also for co-founding the Cleantech Leaders Roundtable."
Barrasso said it "sounds like she thinks she hit the lottery. And apparently she did. She is openly touting Cleantech's access specifically to you [and] hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars."
Shah declined to say if he would end his relationship with his former group, when pressed by Barrasso. The DOE official also downplayed his position as head of the Loan Programs Office.
"I have no role to play whatsoever in choosing who gets a loan. In fact, those decisions are made by federal staff," said Shah. He said his job "has been to gain private sector trust" by attending events "to promote the loan programs office."
Later in the hearing, Shah said attendees at his Cleantech Roundtable speaking events—which cost up to $250-a-person to attend—are "not paying to see me. I’m not that important."
His comments drew laughter from some in the room, and a stunned response from Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.).
"You're the—wow… You're the director of the loan programs for the federal government, Department of Energy," said Hawley. "People who want to get loans from the government are paying to see you, and you think that that's fine?"
After an extended silence from Shah, Hawley quipped, "That's not a rhetorical question."
DOE inspector general Teri Donaldson, the department’s chief watchdog, also testified at the hearing. She said her office has launched a new project "looking at conflicts of interest particularly in the Loan Programs Office."
Her comments came after Barrasso and House Energy Committee chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.) sent a letter to Shah’s office on Wednesday requesting records about the "close collaboration between your office and Cleantech Leaders Roundtable."
"It gives rise to perceptions of a pay to play scheme, where access to DOE loans could be potentially influenced by affiliations with Cleantech Leaders Roundtable," wrote the lawmakers.
The letter noted that a Cleantech Leaders Roundtable board member is also on the board of Sunnova Energy, a solar company that received final approval for a $3 billion loan from Shah’s office earlier this month.
The lawmakers asked Shah to turn over "all correspondence between the [Loan Programs Office], including yourself and Cleantech Leaders’s Roundtable," during Shah’s time in office.