While President Obama has touted his deep commitment to a clean energy industry, the administration has quietly drained more than half of the $6 billion allocated to a key renewable energy program and senior White House officials have proposed either fixing or scrapping one of the President's most widely heralded initiatives involving solar and wind power.
An internal White House memo sent to the President from key advisors on Oct. 25, obtained by ABC News, outlines the shortcomings of the administration's renewable loan guarantee program, which was to set aside millions of taxpayer dollars to backstop private efforts to build robust power plants that rely on solar, wind, and other renewable resources.
The memo was drafted by Obama's top environmental advisor, Carol Browner, top economic advisor Lawrence Summers and the chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, Ron Klain. It acknowledges what some environmental and congressional leaders have quietly complained about for months -- that the loan program has moved too slowly to approve projects and now is in trouble.
The program faces "near term risks," it says, and the senior advisers offer four options for addressing the problem. Among them is a plan to eliminate the initiative by folding the money into a different energy grant program. Obama's advisors bluntly concede in the memo that canceling the program would likely enrage environmental groups and anger key Democrats in Congress. "The White House will bear this criticism," it says.
Just three weeks before the memo landed on Obama's desk, the president used his weekly radio address to tout his commitment to the clean energy sector, saying "our future as a nation" depends on it. Obama used the occasion to criticize Republicans for "promising to scrap all the incentives for clean energy projects, including those currently underway, even with all the jobs and potential that they hold."
"To go backwards and scrap these plans means handing the competitive advantage to China and other nations," he said. "It means that we'll grow even more dependent on foreign oil, and in a time of economic hardship, it means forgoing jobs we desperately need."
The White House Wednesday released a statement saying the president remains committed to the program "and the role it plays in helping us bring about a clean energy economy and creating jobs in this burgeoning industry."
In the statement, Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said the memo was intended to "tee up a wide array of options and issues for consideration." He said the president is planning to take steps to help streamline the process "while still protecting taxpayers who, ultimately, are the ones investing in these projects."
But in recent weeks, much of the criticism about the government's commitment to renewable energy has been directed at the White House. Industry insiders have complained that the administration has drained the loan guarantee initiative of its initial funds, and processed applications so slowly that some investors have lost patience.