WASHINGTON – The director of the controversial Energy Department program that guaranteed a $535 million loan to the now-bankrupt solar equipment maker Solyndra stepped down Thursday, hours after President Barack Obama defended the program at a news conference.
Obama asserted that the loan guarantees helped new technology companies compete with heavily subsidized rivals in Europe and China.
“I’m not going to surrender to other countries’ technological leads that could end up determining whether or not we’re building a strong middle class in this country,” Obama said. “And there are going to be times where it doesn’t work out. But I’m not going to cave to the competition when they are heavily subsidizing all these industries.”
The Energy Department, meanwhile, said Jonathan Silver had told Secretary Steven Chu earlier in the year that he planned to leave when it became clear the program would be finished with its loan guarantees by the end of September.
Silver took his post in November 2009, soon after the program approved the loan guarantee to Solyndra, its first since the initiative began in 2006. By late 2010, Solyndra was faltering. Earlier this year, the company asked the Energy Department to restructure the terms of its loan guarantee. By early September, it had closed its doors, laid off almost all of its 1,100 workers, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and become the focus of FBI and congressional investigations.
During congressional hearings, Silver took much of the heat for the program’s support of Solyndra and its subsequent decision to restructure the loan guarantee in a way that placed the federal government behind other investors in recouping its money in case of bankruptcy.
Some congressional Republicans demanded Silver’s resignation. The administration insisted that Silver’s resignation was not in response to congressional demands.