An advanced lithium-ion battery factory opened this week in Jacksonville, Florida – an event that highlights the political hypocrisy of Republicans in Congress who are attacking the Obama administration for funding clean energy projects in the Stimulus Bill (American Recovery Act).
The Department of Energy (DOE) gave a $95.5 million grant under the Recovery Act which made the new plant possible – it will be owned by Saft America.
The project will create 280 permanent green jobs at the factory, and 800 indirect jobs in the community.
The Republican who represents the district, Rep. Cliff Stearns, was conspicuously absent.
Stearns praised the project a year and a half ago, saying "As a member of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus, I recognize the contributions of these advanced rechargeable batteries in meeting our energy needs."
But now, Stearns leads the GOP attacks on the Obama Administration’s use of stimulus funds for clean energy projects. He heads the House Energy and Commerce Committee that’s investigating DOE’s funding of solar company Solyndra, which declared bankruptcy last month.
Stearns was decidedly less enthusiastic about Saft during a brief interview on Capitol Hill today. "I have no opinion on it right now," Stearns said when asked about the Saft grant. "I’d have to get back to you on it."
Stearns, who is still a member of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus, said today he continues to believe that creating new jobs should be left to the free market and not government bets on new technologies in still-developing sectors like wind and solar.
"I think everybody is disappointed, Democrats and Republicans, that the stimulus package hasn’t worked," Stearns said.
DOE says its efforts are working and that it never expected all of the companies receiving funding to succeed, referring to Solyndra.
The $2 billion DOE invested under the Stimulus Bill has led to 20 battery and 10 electric drive component factories in the US. When they’re operating at full scale, these investments will support factories that have the capacity to supply over 500,000 electric vehicles. The Saft investment is part of that.
These investments are helping build a domestic electric vehicle industry. The US produced less than 2% of the world’s batteries in 2008, but by the end of 2012, it will produce 20% of the world’s advanced vehicle batteries.
Stearns isn’t the only Republican whose actions and words don’t match up when it comes to clean energy projects.
Three Republicans who have publicly criticized the clean energy stimulus efforts of the White House and the DOE, each sought clean energy money for projects in their home states, reports the New York Times.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made two personal appeals to Energy Secretary Steven Chu in 2009, urging him to approve $235 million in federal loans for an electric vehicle factory in Kentucky.
“The White House fact-tracked a half-billion-dollar loan to a politically connected energy firm,” McConnell said Thursday in remarks on the Senate floor regarding Solyndra. He obviously forgot about his own political connections.
Similarly, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) wrote to Chu in 2009 asking that loan guarantees be approved for a proposed solar project in his state. Maybe its sour grapes, but he recently requested that Attorney General Eric Holder appoint an outside investigator to look into the DOE’s distribution of clean energy funds.
And Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) joined a delegation of lawmakers in 2009 who urged stimulus funding for five clean energy projects in Michigan.
Read the NY Times article: