Tuesday, September 6, 2011


This week, President Obama will address the nation about what he is doing to spur economic growth and create jobs. While the head talks, let’s take a look at how the rest walks.

The U.S. Department of Commerce promotes job creation, economic growth, sustainable development and improved standards of living for all Americans by working in partnership with businesses, universities, communities and our nation’s workers. Its wide range of responsibilities includes the areas of trade, economic development, technology, entrepreneurship and business development, environmental stewardship, and statistical research and analysis.

To drive U.S. competitiveness in the global marketplace, the Commerce Department works to strengthen the international economic position of the United States and facilitates global trade by opening up new markets for U.S. goods and services. Here at home, the Commerce Department promotes progressive business policies that help America’s businesses and entrepreneurs and their communities grow and succeed.

The Commerce Department also provides effective management and monitoring of our nation’s resources and assets to support both environmental and economic health. Through critical weather monitoring, weather forecasts and resource preservation, the department protects not only public safety and security but also our oceans, coasts and marine life while assisting their economic development.

The Secretary of Commerce leads this department’s efforts, overseeing a $7.5 billion budget and nearly 47,000 employees worldwide. On August 1, 2011, Rebecca Blank took over as Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, having spent approximately 8 months as Acting Deputy Secretary. Blank, a Missouri native, is filling a temporary position left by the departure of former Commerce Secretary Gary Locke of Washington State to the position of U.S. Ambassador to China. Recently, President Obama announced that John Bryson of California was being tabbed to be the next Commerce Secretary, a nomination which has since been stalled in Congress.

According to published reports, Republicans have vowed to block Bryson’s nomination until President Obama submits free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama to Congress. Obama has refused to do that unless Congress agrees to expand upon an assistance program for U.S. workers who lose their jobs due to international trade.

More troubling to many private sector business owners is that Bryson is probably best known as co-founder of the radical activist group Natural Resources Defense Council, and as CEO of Edison International, parent company of giant electric utility Southern California Edison.

Bryson is also trustee of the California Institute of Technology, a director of the California Endowment and the W. M. Keck Foundation, and serves on the advisory board of Deutsche Bank Americas. Previously Mr. Bryson served on educational, energy and environmental boards, including as a trustee of Stanford University, a member of a United Nations advisory group on energy and climate change, and head of California’s Public Utilities Commission and its State Water Resources Control Board.

“In the years ahead, a key to achieving our export goal will be promoting clean energy in America. It’s how we’ll reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” President Obama said of the appointment. “And that’s how we’ll encourage new businesses and jobs to take root on our shores. John understands this better than virtually anybody.”

The President believes that going green is gold, and while many Americans support cleaner and more sustainable energy options, banking on environmental business to sustain a collapsing national economy has proven to be a treacherous course.

Case in point, the recent bankruptcy declaration by solar-panel maker Solyndra, a politically connected California-based manufacturer. In 2009, Solyndra was able to secure a $535 million loan guarantee from the U.S. government to expand its operations, and just one year later got a visit from President Obama who hailed it as a symbol of the U.S. commitment to the expanded use of renewable energy.

In August of this year, having borrowed almost all the guaranteed loan money, Solyndra said it was bankrupt, and was immediately shutting its operations and laying off 1,100 workers. At about the same time, two other U.S. solar firms, SpectraWatt and Evergreen Solar, also declared they are bankrupt, with taxpayers undoubtedly left to foot the bill for unpaid federal loans already received.

Bloomberg Financial reported in August that SpectraWatt owes creditors $38.7 million and is planning to auction almost all of its assets, which the Hopewell Junction, New York-based company valued at $33.9 million in a filing with U.S. Bankruptcy Court. In their August 19th filing, the company said it was forced to seek protection from creditors because of increasing competition from Chinese rivals and deteriorating prices in the solar industry. Evergreen Solar, which owes creditors upwards of $486.5 million, cited similar reasons for its August 15 bankruptcy filing soon after the state of Massachusetts had committed $23 million in grants in support of high tech manufacturing and job creation.

“United States-based manufacturers are under a great deal of stress because of the emergence of manufacturers in China, who receive considerable government and financial support,” SpectraWatt’s Chief Restructuring Officer and Chief Executive Officer Brad Walker said in the filing. “This support, coupled with China’s inexpensive production costs, have created a competitive advantage for Chinese manufacturers and allowed them to become price leaders within the industry.”

After Evergreen laid off their 800 U.S. workers in Massachusetts, the Chinese government effectively swooped in with a multi-million dollar loan to assist in the relocation and construction of a new overseas manufacturing facility. Born in America, raised overseas, it’s the story about the promise of 21st Century green jobs in the global market, whereby green jobs developed in the U.S. are ultimately outsourced to China to be produced by less costly labor.

The Washington Examiner reported recently that Commerce Secretary delegate appointee John Bryson began his career by creating an environmental litigation group, the Natural Resources Defense Council. He parlayed this gig of suing governments and businesses into top appointments in the late 1970s by California Governor Jerry Brown. After a three-year stint as president of California's Public Utility Commission, Bryson cashed out in 1984 to California's largest public utility, Edison International, parent company of Southern California Edison.

Bryson is also chairman of the board of directors for BrightSource Energy, a California-based green corporation which designs, develops and sells solar thermal power systems that deliver reliable clean energy to utilities and industrial companies.

Jump ahead to February of 2010, when BrightSource announced that it had received a commitment from the Department of Energy for a $1.37 billion loan guarantee to build out BrightSource’s Ivanpah solar project, set to be the first new solar thermal power plant built in California’s deserts in 20 years. Over the next several months, BrightSource would another $176 million in equity and options according to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, with new investors including the Russian government.

The project is said to be about 15% completed thus far, and expected to go online in 2013.

In the early summer of 2011, President Obama said “I am pleased to nominate John Bryson to be our nation’s Secretary of Commerce, as he understands what it takes for America to succeed in a 21st century global economy.” Of the BrightSource chairman of the board, the president would add “John will be an important part of my economic team, working with the business community, fostering growth, and helping open up new markets abroad to promote jobs and opportunities here at home.”

In an August 12, 2011 piece in the New American by Rebecca Terrell, David Bier of the Competitive Enterprise Institute said of the Commerce nominee, "Bryson helped create a regulatory structure that fixed utilities' profits at a percent of costs. As a result, the utilities make money not by bringing costs down and selling more electricity, but by raising costs with unnecessary, expensive and redundant projects." Bier charged Bryson for helping secure several government bailouts for Southern California Edison during his tenure there that saved the utility from bankruptcy and funded his $65 million retirement package in 2008.

Senator James Inhofe (R–Okla.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, described Bryson as the "founder of the radical Natural Resources Defense Council, a left-wing environmentalist organization, which in the name of global warming, seeks to increase drastically the price of electricity and gasoline across America.”

While Bryson served as legal counsel for Natural Resources Defense Council during the early 70’s having founded that group with other Yale Law graduates, he has since spent much of his career managing public utilities, a service which consumers often have very little choice in terms of providers. The sad fact of the matter is that Bryson has no substantial experience in the private sector.

At a time in this country when commerce is stymied by a 9.1% unemployment rate and ever-tightening noose of regulatory controls, we need a Commerce Department leader who truly feels the plight of the nation’s private sector, and understands what’s needed to create jobs. Taking federal subsidies to start-up public utility operations, only to watch them fail while outsourcing jobs overseas may be a retirement plan for some, but it’s certainly no business plan for the health and well-being of the greatest nation on earth.

Think about that while the president’s lips are moving on Thursday night.

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