The media declared one of the top "zingers" of last night's debate to be Mitt Romney's line, "I had a friend who said, you don't just pick the winners and losers; you pick the losers." But that line is based on a blatantly false claim that Romney made later in the debate, that "about half" of the Obama administration's investments in green energy have gone to bankrupt companies.
As even the Romney campaign has reportedly acknowledged, Romney got it completely wrong: a large chunk of that money went to projects like energy efficiency, and within the green energy loan guarantee program the vast majority of projects are still up and running.
The claim that "half" of the $90 billion spent on various clean energy projects went to bankrupt companies made easy fodder for solid fact-checks. But some ignored this blatant falsehood to push Romney's anti-green energy claims. Fox News seized on Romney's "pick the losers" line to declare that all the investments in green energy amounted to a "$90 Billion Boondoggle." And USA Today purported to ask "Are Obama green-energy loans really 'losers'?" but highlighted three of Romney's selective examples instead.
But of the $90 billion that Fox declared a "Boondoggle," nearly one-third was for energy efficiency measures, including retrofits in low-income neighborhoods, and another $10 billion went to electric grid modernization.
Even if Romney was referring only to the clean energy loan program funded under the stimulus, he still got it completely wrong. The New York Times called it "a gross overstatement," noting that "of nearly three dozen recipients of loans under the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program, only three are currently in bankruptcy." In fact, over 87 percent of the funds for the Department of Energy's 1705 loan guarantee program went to low-risk power generation projects, which are required to secure contracts with power purchasers before receiving a loan guarantee, virtually eliminating the risk of default. Congress anticipated that not all companies would succeed, and a Bloomberg Government analysis suggests they set aside more than enough to cover losses -- $2.47 billion, not $90 billion:
One of the three companies that filed for bankruptcy, Beacon Power, is still in operation, and one of the companies Romney used as an example of Obama administration profligacy, electric auto manufacturer Tesla Motors, is paying back its loans and recently announced plans to expand its retail operations.
And while Fox cheered Romney's claim that one year of green energy support is equivalent to "about 50 years' worth of what oil and gas receives," that claim is also misleading. The $90 billion was not spent in one year, as Romney claimed, and some of it has not been spent. While clean energy benefitted from the temporary stimulus, the oil and gas industry received far more subsidies in their initial years and still benefits from about about $4 billion in permanent tax breaks, along with indirect subsidies like not paying for the pollution it imposes on the public.