Energy offers loan to aluminum company for car parts

The Energy Department Thursday offered a conditional loan to aluminum giant Alcoa Inc. to make lightweight vehicle parts.

The conditional commitment for a $259 million loan is the first issued in four years under the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program, which became controversial after some high-profile bankruptcies at companies that received loans.

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The money will go to improvements at Alcoa’s manufacturing plant in Alcoa, Tenn., to produce high-strength aluminum for North American auto makers, the Energy Department said.

“The department’s ATVM loan program can play an important role in helping to finance expanded domestic manufacturing of fuel-efficient technologies that will support the next generation of advanced vehicles and protect the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Energy Secretary Ernest MonizErnest Jeffrey MonizOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court declines to hear challenge to Obama marine monument designation | Interior reverses course on tribal ownership of portion of Missouri river | White House climate adviser meets with oil and gas companies Moniz: Texas blackouts show need to protect infrastructure against climate change The Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Back to the future on immigration, Afghanistan, Iran MORE said in a statement.

The Alcoa announcement came a day after Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate will vote on John Lewis voting bill as soon as next week Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — FDA moves to sell hearing aids over-the-counter Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the American Petroleum Institute — Manchin, Tester voice opposition to carbon tax MORE (R-Alaska), chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, criticized the department's handling of the program.

“The is the 48th consecutive month that the ATVM direct loan program has been unable or unwilling to finalize a new direct loan for an automaker or component supplier,” she said at an Appropriations Committee hearing.

“It really begs the question in terms of why we would continue to have this program on the books, why we would continue to have taxpayers’ support there.”

Moniz recognized the problems, but said his department has taken steps to improve it.

“The ATVM program had some problems in terms of dealing with applicants,” he said. “I believe we have cleaned that up. And we’re getting a lot of interest.”

He pointed to an announcement the Energy Department made a year ago in which it clarified that vehicle component makers are eligible for loans and loan guarantees, and pledged to be more responsive to those companies.

Vehicle lightweighting has become a priority for the Energy Department’s vehicle technology efforts, because making a vehicle lighter without compromising safety can make it more fuel-efficient.

Alcoa estimated that the expansion project the loan is helping to fund will create 200 new full-time jobs, plus another 400 for construction.