Senior Republican slams departing energy secretary over Solyndra

“While many will remember Secretary Chu for his comments about the need to raise gas prices on American consumers and the high grades he publicly bestowed on himself, I found taxpayer losses on projects like Solyndra and the department’s deeply misguided effort to use taxpayer dollars as an investment bank for unproven technologies to be the most problematic aspects of his legacy,” he said.

The comment on gas prices refers to Chu's comments to The Wall Street Journal in September 2008, when he said, “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe” in order to create incentives for efficient cars.

But Chu backed off from supporting higher gas prices during his Senate confirmation process to be Energy secretary in early 2009. (More on that here.)

On Solyndra, Issa and other Republicans strongly criticized DOE loan and grant programs over the failure of the California solar panel maker and a few other companies that have failed or struggled badly.

Administration officials say the woes of a few companies should not obscure the wider successes of the loan programs, which have backed more than two-dozen power-generation, manufacturing, auto and other projects.

“The next secretary of Energy will need to refocus the department on removing barriers for the safe use of proven technologies that can quickly lower the costs of energy for all Americans and reduce our dependence on foreign sources,” Issa said.

His comments are part of the flood of reactions to Chu’s intention to step down.

Across Capitol Hill, new Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) praised Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist.

“Secretary Chu presided over a vast expansion of renewable energy and cleaner-burning natural gas, and he did a lot of good in his time at the Department of Energy,” Wyden said in a statement. “Certainly in terms of pure intellectual horsepower, Secretary Chu will be a tough act to follow."

Wyden’s committee will vet the eventual nominee to replace Chu. 

“As President Obama looks at potential successors, I hope he keeps in mind the importance of encouraging innovation in new energy technologies, safeguarding taxpayer dollars and continuing the manufacturing revival spurred by stable natural gas supplies,” Wyden said.

Speaking of Obama, he highlighted Chu’s work to contain the 2010 BP oil spill in remarks Friday afternoon after praising his energy chief in a prepared statement earlier in the day.

“That will be a loss for us. Steve has been a great friend, a tremendous colleague over the past four years, working on a whole range of energy issues, but also designing a cap to plug a hole in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico when nobody else could figure it out,” Obama said Friday afternoon at a White House ceremony, where he presented an array of scientists with the National Medals of Science and the National Medals of Technology and Innovation.

“And that’s typical of the incredible contributions that he’s made to this country. Because of his leadership, this country is further along on the path to energy independence. It’s better positioned for the jobs and industries of the future,” Obama said.

But the Institute for Energy Research, a group partly funded by fossil energy industries, was less kind.

“Under his watch, energy consumption in the United States declined by 2.24 percent while our leading economic competitor, China, increased energy consumption by 28 percent. Similarly, GDP growth in the United States has limped along at the anemic annual rate of 0.6 percent while China's economy has soared at the annual rate of 9.12 percent, more than 15 times our own. Clearly, the policies and priorities of Steven Chu's energy department have benefited our global competitors and intensified the economic pain felt by millions of unemployed Americans,” said Daniel Kish, the group’s senior vice president.