New emails provided to Congress show substantial White House involvement in directing Department of Energy subsidized loans to BrightSource Energy, a company that received a $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the government to build the world's largest solar power plant in the Mojave Desert.
These emails reveal that Jonathan Silver, executive director of the Energy Department's loan guarantee program, was helping draft a letter from John Bryson, chairman of the board of BrightSource Energy, to then-White House Chief of Staff William Daley requesting help in obtaining the loan. These emails were written from Silver's personal account during business hours.
In October, Bryson became President Obama's secretary of commerce.
On Saturday, Bryson, driving in California, had a seizure and was involved multiple car accidents. He has temporarily stepped down from his position as commerce secretary.
In this space last week, I wrote about previously released emails by the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, which detailed BrightSource's request to Silver for assistance with emails to Daley from Bryson.
John M. Woolard, president and CEO of BrightSource Energy, wanted Silver to review a draft letter that Bryson planned to send to Daley, then-chief of staff to Obama. "Either email or call when you can with suggestions," Woolard wrote early in the morning of March 7, 2011.
Prior to the disclosure of a new batch of emails, it could not be ascertained whether Silver did agree to edit Bryson's draft letter to Daley. But the new documents make it clear that Silver edited the letter from his personal email account during office hours and provided advice to BrightSolar on March 7 and 8, 2011.
It would have been improper for a government official to have assisted an applicant for a government loan program using a government computer on government time. But it's impossible to believe that using a nongovernmental account makes the action appropriate. Indeed, it appears to be an effort to conceal an unseemly activity.
Silver's email to Woolard stated, "My comments/changes are interspersed. I've tried to turn this into a memo that we can all support as drafted. I have to be honest and say that its [sic] off-target."
Silver then removed a phrase from the letter stating, "however, lack of urgency within the review teams is putting the project at risk. We need a commitment from the Whitehouse [sic] to quarterback loan closure between OMB and DOE by March 18..."
This phrase put Silver in a bad light because it made it seem as though the Energy Department was delaying approval unnecessarily.
Silver ends the email to Woolard by underscoring the White House interest in the BrightSource loan: "I go through this just to say that the delay, if any, is not due to a lack of urgency and, the WH, once it gets involved, will want to see that analysis in any event. A different positioning, if you want to send the memo, is to make sure that Daley is aware the deal is coming through and may be interested in the legal analysis."
It turns out the letter from Bryson to Daley was unnecessary. A few hours later, at 4:41 p.m., Silver (again using his personal email account) writes to Woolard that the loan will go through. "We should be on track for a march 17 [sic] close. I'll keep you posted."
BrightSource got its loan on April 11, 2011.
These emails show that political appointees at the highest levels were involved in giving out government money. Politicians and their cronies do well with government loan programs; the taxpayers who pay for them are not so lucky.
Examiner Columnist Diana Furchtgott-Roth (firstname.lastname@example.org), former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. She is the author of Regulating to Disaster: How Green Jobs Policies Are Poisoning America's Economy (forthcoming, Encounter Books).