Fast-Tracked Cronyism

GOP accelerates probe of Interior leases to green energy loan recipients

• May 29, 2012 12:46 pm


GOP investigators have stepped up their probe into possible political favoritism by the Department of the Interior (DOI) toward several solar companies that received fast-tracked leases on federal lands, as well as billions of dollars in federal loan guarantees.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) sent a letter Tuesday to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, pressing the agency to release communications from Department of Energy and DOI officials regarding the leases.

"More than six months ago Senator Jeff Sessions, the Ranking Member on the Senate Committee on the Budget, requested specific information regarding DOI's possible preferential treatment of certain renewable or alternative energy projects—all of which received taxpayer-funded loan guarantees," the letter reads. "Despite repeated attempts to have this request fulfilled, DOI has not produced an adequate response. This is unacceptable."

The letter requests that DOI hand over the communications by no later than June 12. "If you fail to comply with this request, we will have no choice but to consider the use of compulsory process," the letter warns.

The participation of House Oversight adds a measure of clout to Session's probe. The committee is the chief investigative arm of the House of Representatives and has been delving extensively into the Department of Energy's loan program.

A senior Oversight aide told the Free Beacon that Issa decided to get involved after DOI continued to stonewall Senator Sessions' requests.

Sessions originally requested documentation and communications related to the lease program in a November 2011 letter to Salazar. After a follow up letter from Sessions, DOI responded by sending public documents already available on its website.

At issue are a series of lease approvals for several renewable energy projects in California and Nevada.

DOI issued a secretarial order in 2009 to fast track the siting of renewable energy projects on public lands managed by the agency. The effort was part of the Obama administration's larger green energy initiative.

Seven solar companies received fast-tracked lease approvals in a no-bid process. Those seven companies also all received loan guarantees worth billions from the Department of Energy under its renewable energy loan program, as well as renewable energy grants from the Treasury Department.

As previously reported by the Free Beacon, there were extensive political ties among the solar companies, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), the Department of Energy, DOI, and the Commerce Department.

The Oversight Committee recently obtained e-mails from one of the solar companies, BrightSource Energy, which committee Republicans say show a direct link between the loan recipient and the White House.

Commerce Secretary John Bryson was chairman of BrightSource at the time.

The leases also raise questions over the agency's adherence to environmental regulations. They were approved much faster than traditional oil and gas projects.

The disparity between conventional energy leases and the appearance of political favoritism led Republicans to begin probing the fast-track program.

A Department of Interior spokesperson was not available for comment.