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Rep. Bill Owens on loan guarantees: There’s risk “with any investment”

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Investment in “green jobs” makes up a key pillar of Rep. William L. Owens’ platform, from his first election in 2009 to today.

Despite the recent troubles that a solar panel manufacturer in California has faced — which is quickly becoming a political bludgeon for Republicans to wield upon Democrats — Mr. Owens says the investments are still sound public policy. But the government should do a better job vetting projects that come before it, he said.

“We need to be more vigilant,” Mr. Owens said Monday. “There is, in fact, a place for investment by the government.”

Solyndra, a Fremont, Calif.-based solar power manufacturer, went bankrupt in August after receiving a $535 million loan as part of the 2009 stimulus package passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama.

A congressional investigation and media reports have shed light on warning signs pointing toward imminent failure that Mr. Obama’s administration missed, or perhaps ignored.

“I will agree with the general philosophy that there’s risk inherent with any investment,” Mr. Owens said, without specifically assessing blame in the Solyndra case because an investigation hasn’t been completed. “Even venture capitalists suffer losses on investments because deals aren’t successful. That is, in fact, inherent in the process.”

A political battle is brewing, too, over the American Jobs Act, a $447 billion combination of tax cuts and new spending that Mr. Obama says will jump-start the economy. Republican media liaisons have been quick to pounce, calling it “Stimulus 2.0.” Democrats counter by saying that the president’s plan is entirely paid for with tax hikes on those making more than $200,000 and couples making more than $250,000, among other measures.

Mr. Owens hasn’t said that he supports the bill, but said he likes the increased spending in infrastructure and a so-called “bridge to work” program, which would allow those who don’t have jobs to continue to receive unemployment benefits while they train for new jobs.

Asked about what green jobs projects he had a hand in, Mr. Owens pointed to discussions that his office has had with ongoing initiatives, like Ogdensburg’s effort to build a biofuels plant, wind projects and a Fort Drum power plant.

“It’s clearly an ongoing process,” Mr. Owens said.

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