Solyndra Workers’ Aid Request Shows Program’s Flaws, Hatch Says

The request by employees of failed solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra LLC for benefits intended for workers hurt by overseas competition adds to evidence the aid program is flawed, Republican U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch said.

Solyndra sought bankruptcy protection on Sept. 6, after getting $535 million in loan guarantees from the Obama administration. The Fremont, California-based company made products that cost more than domestic competitors, and the worker’s request for aid blamed low-cost imports from China, Hatch said in a statement on the Senate floor.

“The failure was blamed on China, but if you cannot even out-compete U.S. companies, it wasn’t foreign competition that ruined your business, it was simply a failed business model,” said Hatch of Utah.

Solyndra ceased operations on Aug. 31, the third U.S. solar manufacturer to fail in a month as lower-cost Chinese panels and weak global demand lead to industry consolidation. It was the only one of the three that received a federal guarantee. Two days after filing in bankruptcy court, the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided its headquarters.

California state officials applied for Trade Adjustment Assistance for the 1,100 Solyndra workers on Sept. 2, citing Chinese subsidies to its alternative-energy industry for the loss of U.S. jobs, a Labor Department official, who declined to be identified because of department policy, said last week. The program is part of the debate as Congress considers free-trade agreements pending since the George W. Bush administration.

President Barack Obama has refused to submit the trade accords until Congress commits to extend augmented health and unemployment benefits for workers who lose their jobs to overseas competition. Hatch opposes the aid, saying that the assistance, which was expanded in the 2009 stimulus measure, is unaffordable and inefficient.

“I cannot support increasing funding for a program without any real evidence that it works,” Hatch said.

The Labor Department’s investigation of the Solyndra employees’ petition is in progress, and the department makes decisions within two months on average, the official said.

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