President Obama discussed the Department of Energy loan program with a stakeholder dependent on the DOE, and the conversation appears to have expedited the process, according to House investigators.
The connection between the White House and BrightSource Energy, Inc., -- which received a $1.6 billion loan guarantee -- emerged during a House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee hearing this morning, based on emails that show BrightSource asking the White House for help in receiving a loan from DOE.
John Woolard, CEO of BrightSource, told the DOE of Obama's involvement in January 2010 when he was pushing for a conditional commitment.
"Darbee at PG & E talked directly to Obama about the program's challenges and the bad situation it puts him in," Woolard emailed to Matt Rogers, who was then Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Energy for the Recovery Act and played a significant role in disbursing funds to renewable energy companies.
Woolard explained today that "Darbee" refers to Peter Darbee, then-CEO and chairman of Pacific Gas and Electric. "They had a vested interest in getting this thing approved because you were providing them their required commitment for green power," Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, observed to Woolard. "One month after this email you got the conditional approval."
Jordan then read from another email between Woolard and Jonathan Silver, executive director of the DOE loan program, sent after BrightSource received a conditional commitment but while they still sought a final commitment.
In that email, Woolard asked Silver to proofread a drafted email that the BrightSource chairman, John Bryson -- now President Obama's Commerce Secretary -- intended to send to White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley.
The letter Silver proofread requested direct White House influence in BrightSource's loan guarantee application. "We need a commitment from the WH to quarterback loan closure between OMB and DOE," reads Bryson's draft message to Daley. It also includes a request for "guidance and support from the White House."
Energy Secretary Steven Chu may have to testify again before Congress about the DOE loan program. "It's clear that there was direct conversation leading to a form of favoritism for BrightSource," said House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., adding that they will request documents from the White House regarding its communications with Bright Source as well.