For President Barack Obama, 2011 began with a bang — a bold pronouncement that his green dream for America would bring forth a jobs explosion and a new economy fueled by alternative energy, a vision he likened to President John F. Kennedy’s “moon shot” in the 1960s. Much to Obama’s chagrin, the year has ended in a whimper with his green energy “sun shot” sputtering to the ground before it even took off.
The President set the bar awfully high in his State of the Union Address last January, hailing alternative clean energy as “our generation’s Sputnik moment” and claiming that it would be ”an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.” The President said, “Already, we’re seeing the promise of renewable energy.” Unfortunately, what the President predicted is much different than what the rest of the country experienced in the ensuing year. The jobs that the President promised didn’t materialize, and his green energy investments are careening into the ground, not shooting to the moon.
That news was sealed in The Washington Post this week with a story that didn’t see much light of day, published as it was on Christmas Day. The Post reported that politics, not policy, has been largely behind the President’s green jobs program:
Meant to create jobs and cut reliance on foreign oil, Obama’s green-technology program was infused with politics at every level, The Washington Post found in an analysis of thousands of memos, company records and internal e-mails. Political considerations were raised repeatedly by company investors, Energy Department bureaucrats and White House officials.
Of course, central to the story is solar energy company Solyndra, which received a $535 million taxpayer-funded loan guarantee. President Obama spoke at the company’s newly unveiled factory in May of last year, bragging that “[W]e can see the positive impacts [of the stimulus] right here at Solyndra.” Despite the President’s boosterism, Solyndra went bankrupt last summer, leaving 1,100 people out of work. The jobs the President promised didn’t stick around long, and they came at a heavy price.
The Post took a look at the Solyndra story and found that senior officials “pushed career bureaucrats to rush their decision” on the solar energy company’s taxpayer-backed loan guarantee in order to coincide with a visit by Vice President Joe Biden. And it reported that politics, “optics,” and political theater were at the top of the Administration’s mind, with one Obama staffer writing that “a meltdown” at Solyndra “would likely be very embarrassing for DOE and the Administration.”
The Post also found that the White House granted “easy access to venture capitalists with stakes in some of the companies backed by the administration,” many of whom were Obama campaign donors. And others were given jobs in the Administration and “helped manage the clean-energy program.”
If that story weren’t enough bad news for one week, on Tuesday another headline landed like with a thud on the White House’s doorstep. The Wall Street Journal reported that “Dark Times Fall on Solar Sector” and that “Bankruptcies, plummeting stock prices and crushing debt loads are calling into question the viability of an industry that since the 1970s has been counted on to advance the U.S.–and the world–into a new energy age.”
But wait, there’s more! The notoriously liberal New York Times printed a harsh assessment of the “green” economy in August and concluded that the President’s promise to create five million green jobs over 10 years is nothing more than “a pipe dream.” Case in point? The Times pointed to California’s Bay Area, where “green” jobs have actually been lost, not gained. And farther up the West coast, a $20 million federal grant to invest in weatherization programs was a total failure. Seattlepi.com reported that “only three homes had been retrofitted and just 14 new jobs have emerged from the program.” Their conclusion: “Seattle’s ‘green jobs’ program a bust.”
The White House, though, tries to tell a different story. On its website, you can find headlines like “Fastest Growing Industry in the U.S. — Solar Energy,” “Now Is Not the Time to Wave the White Flag on Clean Energy Jobs,” and “Investing in America’s New Energy Frontier” — all of which lead to stories that promote alternative energy as America’s brave new future. But as this year has shown, that is more fiction than fact, as much as President Obama would tell you otherwise.
Meanwhile, the President has flat out turned his back on real jobs and tangible energy sources by postponing a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline–a project that would directly create 20,000 truly shovel-ready jobs and an estimated 179,000 American jobs by 2035, bring with it a $20 billion private-infrastructure investment in the United States, and also promote energy independence. It seems that when it comes to jobs, energy, and investment, this is a President who prefers to choose fantasy over reality.
Mike Brownfield oversees execution of The Heritage Foundation . http://www.heritage.org/ social networking strategy and online media outreach as the think tank’s senior digital communications associate.