President Obama’s Green Jobs Quest

shipwreck from the bow

shipwreck from the bow

President Barack Obama’s similarities with Herman Mellville’s character Captain Ahab are striking.

Both were abandoned by family members (Obama by his father, and Ahab by both parents).  Both have unfortunate names (Obama’s middle name is Hussein which is shared by deceased tyrant Saddam Hussein, and Ahab was named after a despised King of Israel who worshipped idols).  Most importantly, both men are driven by an obsession that results in repeated failures.

No matter how many times Ahab failed to capture Moby Dick, he continued to steer the Pequod after the beast.  Likewise, no matter how many times Obama’s green jobs efforts fail, he just keeps spending more taxpayer money on doomed projects.

It’s not uncommon for a green energy company propped up with taxpayer money to file for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.  The Solyndra scandal that lost taxpayers a half-billion dollars is well known, but there are many others.

Just last week, Ener1, a government-backed battery company, announced it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  The company was always a gamble because it was reliant on a strong market for electric vehicles that has not materialized.   But no matter, Obama’s team granted the lithium-ion company $118.5 million.  (Click here to watch a video of Vice President Joe Biden visiting Ener1 and praising them as a stimulus success story.)

According to the Hill, Ener1’s “grant was part of a broader program aimed at promoting the development of electric-vehicle battery technology.”

Just two days before Ener1’s bankruptcy announcement, during his State of the Union address to Congress, Obama praised his electric-vehicle battery program saying:

In three years, our partnership with the private sector has already positioned America to be the world’s leading manufacturer of high-tech batteries.

While he didn’t mention Ener1 by name, the company’s bankruptcy deals a significant blow to Obama’s high-tech battery plans.  To keep the President from putting his foot in his mouth, maybe somebody at Ener1 should have informed Obama’s speechwriter that the company planned to file bankruptcy two days after the speech.  It’s not as though Obama has not worked with green firms before to control negative information.  Prior to the 2010 mid-term elections, the Obama Administration pressured Solyndra to delay announcing planned lay offs that would have been politically damaging to Obama’s party.

Ener1’s announcement comes on the heels of Beacon Power’s bankruptcy.  Beacon is a flywheel energy storage company that received $43 million taxpayer dollars from the same stimulus slush fund that produced Solyndra.  It too filed for Chapter 11 protection this past October.

For a more complete list of Obama’s green energy failures, click here.

Conservative and free-market commentators have relentlessly assailed Obama’s green energy efforts as a waste of tax dollars – and, in the case of Solyndra, crony capitalism.  (For just a few examples of the National Center’s criticism of Obama’s green energy programs, see here, here, here and here.)

Those concerns have fallen on deaf ears.  Captain Obama continues to steer the ship of state after green jobs.  No amount of failing companies or wasted money can deter him.

Now, however, Obama’s own Labor Department says enough is enough.  Monday, USA Today reported that the U.S. Department of Labor recommended cancelling the remaining green jobs program from the stimulus bill.  USA Today’s report notes that the program is falling far short of expectations:

The program’s goal was to train 124,893 people and put 79,854 in jobs. But 17 months later, 52,762 were trained and 8,035, or roughly 1 in 10, had jobs. Those numbers come from an audit by the Department of Labor’s inspector general, which recommended that the administration end the program and return unspent money.

The full report is available here.

Obama should heed this advice.  Instead of wasting our money, he and his advisors should evaluate federal regulations that hamper hiring and economic growth and remove these barriers.  Spending hundreds of millions of dollars on green energy failures just to net a handful of jobs is lunacy.

Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) – who is investigating the Solyndra scandal – looked deeper into the Inspector General report and discovered that the green jobs program is actually doing even worse than USA Today reported:

President Obama touted green jobs as a way to improve the environment and as a central pillar of his stimulus program. The Inspector General’s report released yesterday paints a starkly different picture than what the Administration sold the American people. The Department of Labor was supposed to have trained over 124,000 people for these new green jobs, but less than half that number has actually received training. Of those, some 8,000 were placed in jobs yet only 1,300 workers had jobs lasting more than six months.

No objective observer can accept this failure rate.  It is human to admit mistakes and move on.  It is obsession to continue on the same failed course time and again.  For the sake of the economy – and taxpayers’ wallets – President Obama should abandon his quest for green jobs.

After all, obsession did not work out so well for Ahab and the Pequod.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.