Judicial Watch sues to compel feds to release SunPower docs

Rep. George Miller III (D.-Calif.) led Interior Secretary Kenneth L. Salazar on a Oct. 14, 2010 tour of the SunPower facilty in Richmond, Calif., located in Miller’s district. Miller said he did not know until the day of the tour that SunPower paid his son George Miller IV’s lobbying firm $176,000.

Washington-based Judicial Watch, filed a Feb. 1 lawsuit [Judicial Watch v. Department of the Interior and Department of the Treasury, No. 12-170] to compel the Interior and Treasury departments to release records regarding the Obama administration’s $1.2 billion loan guarantee to California solar company SunPower.

SunPower may make the Solyndra scandal seem like small potatoes,” said Thomas J. Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a non-profit organization, which investigates and fights government corruption. Judicial Watch is working with Human Events in the investigation of the loan guarantee.

“Just like Solyndra, the SunPower loan is tainted by corruption, influence peddling and terrible judgment,” he said.

“In the wake of the public outrage over Solyndra, the Obama administration clearly intends to cover up the details of yet another risky and corrupt government bailout. We expect our lawsuits will break through the Obama administration stone wall.”

In light of the controversial Obama administration loan to the now bankrupt energy company Solyndra, the SunPower loan, which amounts to more than double the amount of funds dedicated to Solyndra, has come under intense scrutiny.

SunPower, which is reportedly $820 million in debt and besieged by shareholder lawsuits, plans to manufacture its solar panels at a new facility of some 320,000 square feet located in Mexicali, Mexico.

The government watchdog requested the records through the process created by the Freedom of Information Act Oct. 21, but the departments have not yet complied. A similar lawsuit was filed on the same date by Judicial Watch against the Navy for related documents.

All three agencies have acknowledged receipt of Judicial Watch’s FOIA requests but have failed to respond within the statutory allotted time frame, according to a Feb. 6 statement from Judicial Watch.

As of Feb. 1, the date the watchdog filed its suit, the departments of the Interior, Treasury and Navy have neither provided the documents nor demonstrated that the documents are exempt from the FOIA request. Nor has there been any indication of when the documents would be produced, the statement said.

Pursuant to Judicial Watch’s FOIA requests filed with the Departments of Interior and Treasury on October 21, 2011, Judicial Watch seeks the following:

•    Any and all records regarding, concerning or related to the issuance of a Department of Energy loan guarantee to SunPower, Inc. and/or NRG Energy, Inc. on or about  Sept. 30.

•    Any and all records of communication between any official, officer, or employee of the Departments of the Interior and/or Treasury and any official, officer or employee of any other government agency, department of office regarding, concerning or related to any loan guarantees applied for, by, and/or awarded to SunPower, Inc. and/or NRG Energy.

•    Any and all records of communication between any official, officer, or employee of the Department of the Interior and/or Treasury and any officer, employee or representative of Lang, Hansen, O’Malley and Miller, a government relations firm headquartered in Sacramento, California.

The FOIA request also asked for records regarding a visit to SunPower’s Richmond, Calif., production facility on October 14, 2010, by Interior Secretary Kenneth L. Salazar, Rep. George Miller III (D.-Calif.) and others, according to statement from Judicial Watch.

The FOIA request submitted to the Navy sought access as well to “any and all records regarding, concerning or related to the $100,268,000 firm-fixed-price task order awarded to SunPower, Inc. on September 30, 2011.”
Miller’s involvement in the SunPower has been the subject of investigative pieces in the Washington-based newspaper Human Events.

According to the Human Events stories, Miller was an active champion for SunPower, which has operated a solar panel manufacturing facility in his district, and pushed for the loan guarantees: “In support of the loan request, Rep. George Miller III, the co-chairman of the policy and steering committee for House Democrats, wrote a letter to the Department of Energy and led Secretary of the Interior Kenneth L. Salazar on an Oct. 14, 2010, tour of the company’s facility in Richmond, Calif.”

Moreover, George Miller IV, a “founding partner and principal” of the lobbying firm in California, Lang, Hansen, O’Malley and Miller, is the congressman’s son. SunPower paid his firm $176,000 in fees since 2009.

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