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Report: White House 'Tried To Rush' Decision On Solar Firm Loan

May 26, 2010:  President Obama tours the Solyndra solar panel company with Executive VP of Engineering Ben Bierman.
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May 26, 2010: President Obama tours the Solyndra solar panel company with Executive VP of Engineering Ben Bierman.

One of the scoops of the day, from The Washington Post:

"The Obama White House tried to rush federal reviewers for a decision on a nearly half-billion-dollar loan to the solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra so Vice President Biden could announce the approval at a September 2009 groundbreaking for the company's factory, newly obtained e-mails show."

According to the Post, "the August 2009 emails ... show White House officials repeatedly asking OMB reviewers when they would be able to decide on the federal loan and noting a looming press event at which they planned to announce the deal. In response, OMB officials expressed concern that they were being rushed."

White House spokesman Eric Schultz tells the Postthat the administration was expressing a "quite active interest" in the loan decision, but that it was left to career staffers at the Department of Energy to weigh the merits of the loan.

The Postadds that "it is not clear from the emails whether the White House influenced a final decision to approve the loan guarantee." The previous administration, of Republican President George W. Bush, had also been pursuing a federal loan guarantee for Solyndra.

Biden participated via satellite feed in Solyndra's Sept. 4, 2009, groundbreaking and "announced the Department of Energy has finalized a $535 million loan guarantee for Solyndra, Inc., which manufactures innovative cylindrical solar photovoltaic panels that provide clean, renewable energy," according to a White House statement issued at the time. In May 2010, President Obama visited the company to tout the jobs it had created.

On Aug. 31 this year, Solyndra declared bankruptcy. George Avalos, a business reporter with the Bay Area Newsgroup, told All Things Considered earlier this month that Solyndra was "never able to get [its] manufacturing costs low enough to be competitive with solar panel manufacturers in China, as well as solar manufacturer companies here in the United States."

The Post's story comes, The Associated Press writes, as a House panel prepares for a hearing today to "examine what went wrong with Solyndra" and ask why "taxpayers on the hook" for the nearly half-billion dollar loan. As we previously wrote, the loan to the company and its subsequent failure has become a political issue.

Last week, federal agents raided Solyndra's offices as part of an investigation being conducted with the Department of Energy's Office of Inspector General.

Update at 1 p.m. ET. Lawmakers Raise Questions At Hearing, White House Says It Wasn't Pressuring:

"Republican lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee's investigations panel are questioning why there was a rush to approve the loan and whether the entire loan guarantee program is warranted," The Associated Press writes.

The wire service adds that:

" 'Our investigation raises several questions about whether the administration did everything it could to protect taxpayer dollars,' said Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan.

"White House spokesman Jay Carney attributed the rush to scheduling decisions. 'What the emails make clear is there was urgency to make a decision on a scheduling matter. It is a big proposition to move the president or to put on an event and that sort of thing so people were simply looking for answers about whether or not people could move forward,' Carney told reporters at the White House.

" 'It had nothing to — and there is no evidence to the contrary — nothing to do with anything besides the need to get an answer to make a scheduling decision,' he said."

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.