Solyndra tarnishes green jobsBy BOB KING
September 18, 2011
President Barack Obama’s green-energy agenda may survive Solyndra, but he might need to keep his distance for a while.
Tours of clean-technology companies have been a hallmark of Obama’s presidency, giving him a chance to tout green jobs, the success of his administration’s stimulus program and the promise of a new era of American leadership.
But now, with Solyndra’s odor seemingly everywhere and even “The Daily Show” mocking Obama’s May 2010 visit to the solar company, the president’s personal stamp may no longer be helping.And while the White House is remaining steadfast in its efforts to champion clean energy, supporting the technology doesn’t necessarily require having the president tour the factory floor and speak in shirtsleeves in front of television cameras.
“This is a growing industry, and it will continue to grow without the president visiting factories,” said Jonathan Rothwell, a senior research analyst at the Brookings Institution.
“At this point … it seems to have politicized an issue that should, if anything, be a bipartisan commitment,” Rothwell said of Obama’s visits. “It almost obligates Republicans to speak out against green jobs and green policies.”
Rothwell said a great need exists for the federal government to continue supporting the development of clean energy, which he argues could eventually yield the same type of economic boom that the once-modest information technology sector did in the 1990s. That’s especially crucial in later stages when companies are trying to get financing to bring products to market, without the kind of successful track record that a bank would demand.
The White House said it’s not backing away from its clean-energy agenda.
“The president is absolutely committed to the idea that the United States must compete in the cutting-edge technologies of the 21st century,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Thursday. “We will be buying renewable energy products, whether it’s wind, biofuel, solar, advanced battery technology — we’re going to be buying that stuff. Do we want to buy it with a stamp on it that says, ‘Made in America,’ or are we going to buy it from the Chinese or from other countries?”
Daniel Weiss, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said his inbox shows no evidence that the administration’s support has slackened. “Every day, I get press releases from [the Department of Energy] announcing $30 million here, $50 million there for various and sundry energy projects,” he said.
In the pre-Solyndra scandal days, Obama’s presence could produce a far sunnier spotlight than any news release.
For example, Manitowoc, Wis.-based Orion Energy Systems aggressively pursued a presidential visit until Obama finally arrived in January, just after his “win the future” State of the Union speech. Obama also gave his weekly YouTube address from Orion’s factory on Jan. 29.
“We were incessant to the point of probably being annoying” in inviting the president, said Kevin Crawford, senior vice president of government relations and corporate communications for Orion, which produces energy-efficient lighting and solar projects. The company’s stock showed an uptick just before Obama’s visit, and Crawford said the presidential attention seemed to draw the notice of state leaders while boosting workers’ morale.
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