The Biggest (And Least Discussed) Lie Of The Debate? Romney’s False Claim About Clean Energy Bankruptcies

By now, almost every claim and counter-claim from last night’s presidential debate has been picked apart. But there’s one assertion that has received minimal attention in the after-action coverage of the debate — and it was one of the most blatant lies of the night.

The comment came about two thirds of the way through the conversation. As Romney was riffing on funding education, he pivoted to his talking points on Obama’s support of renewable energy and let this whopper loose:

“And these [clean energy] businesses, many of them have gone out of business, I think about half of them, of the ones have been invested in, have gone out of business.”

The New York Times, one of the few mainstream organizations to follow up on this claim, called Romney’s comment a “gross overstatement.”

Actually, it’s much more offensive than that.

At a time when the U.S. clean energy industry is supporting thousands of innovative businesses in every state (many of them small businesses), hundreds of thousands of jobs (including tens of thousands in Romney’s home state of Massachusetts), and leveraging tens of billions in private capital, Romney casually tried to claim that “half” of businesses that received federal incentives have gone out of business. That’s not even remotely close to the truth.

Okay, let’s throw the Romney camp a bone. To the small number of people who actually monitor this topic, it was clear that he probably meant the loan guarantee program — a tool that provides government backing of private loans in order to leverage capital for “first of a kind” renewable energy projects

After numerous tweets last night calling Romney out, Time Magazine’s Michael Grunwald confirmed today via twitter that the campaign was backtracking: “Now Romney camp tells me he misspoke, only meant to single out loan program.”

So let’s narrow Romney’s statement down to the loan guarantee program. Are we getting closer to the truth? No.

The loan guarantee program Romney referenced supported dozens of companies. Of those companies, three recently went bankrupt due to difficult market conditions. But that’s out of 33 companies that received loan guarantees or commitments for loan guarantees. That translates to a 10 percent failure rate representing roughly 2 percent of budgeted funds for the program — a big difference from the 50 percent failure rate that Romney claimed.

At the same time, the program has supported some of the largest wind and solar projects in the world, helping double generation of U.S. renewable electricity in four years.

In fact, an independent review of the loan guarantee program found that it will cost $2 billion less than actually budgeted for. (Yes, the program is designed to accept a certain level of failure, which is an important part of supporting innovative projects that need help accessing private capital).

Along with his false comments about bankruptcies, Romney claimed that Obama had “provided $90 billion in tax breaks to green energy” in one year. While $90 billion is an accurate number, it was certainly not all for tax breaks and it was not all deployed at once. (In fact, some of it still hasn’t been spent). The money was set aside through the stimulus package for grants, competitive prices, demonstration projects, and loan guarantees — with $3.4 billion going toward “clean coal,” a technology that Romney said “I like” during the debate.

The real problem with these claims isn’t how detached they are from reality. It’s that Romney likely wants them to be true.

Over the last year, Romney has made a conscious decision to run against clean energy — releasing false and misleading ads that disparage government support for the industry.

If the clean energy industry really were suffering — not booming like it is — then he’d be able score politically. But polls show Americans still really, really like federal support of the sector and that messaging around the bankrupt solar company Solyndra isn’t sticking. So, why not claim that half of companies went bankrupt? That will get people’s attention, right?

When you’ve convinced yourself of something that’s not true, it’s very easy to make your false claims as grandiose as you like.

For a review of all claims on energy during the debate, check out our fact check from last night.

16 Responses to The Biggest (And Least Discussed) Lie Of The Debate? Romney’s False Claim About Clean Energy Bankruptcies

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    This debate showcased media failure above all. Lehrer ignored pleas to ask a question about global warming, since PBS gets money from Koch and the natural gas industry. Lehrer still has his job because he is a soothing desk jockey, not a reporter.

    Romney’s lie about clean energy funding and the loan program was one of many, both during the debate and on the campaign trail. The Times covered this, but few others did. Huffington bought AOL, but nothing changed- they gushed over Romney, with zero mention of his many whoppers, similar to the networks and major newspapers.

    Obama should have been personally offended that his opponent told baldface lies, and then called Obama a liar more than once. Obama scribbled on his notepad and smirked, instead of going after him. Romney actually served him a sweet pitch here, and Obama didn’t just miss, he didn’t even swing. This does not bode well for his next term.

    Romney is an egomaniacal and dangerous fraud, but the public noted that he has one quality that Obama lacks: balls.

  2. Peter Doran says:

    I was floored to hear him put Tesla Motors on the list of “losers”. Really? Tesla is an exciting growing business.

  3. clays says:

    ROMNEY: And in one year, you provided $90 billion in breaks to the green energy world.
    Now, I like green energy as well, but that’s about 50 years’ worth of what oil and gas receives

    But you make a very good point, which is that the place you put your money just makes a pretty clear indication of where your heart is. You put $90 billion into — into green jobs. And I — look, I’m all in favor of green energy. $90 billion, that would have — that would have hired 2 million teachers. $90 billion.

  4. Don A in Pennsyltucky says:

    There are no consequences for lying. Therefore Romney will continue to lie and get away with it.

  5. Leif says:

    What is the sense of having teachers if all we are training the students for is hamburger flippers. The Nation needs a positive direction to peruse and apprentice jobs to employ those too poor to attend upper school. Not any job mind you, only green jobs can begin to pull the Nation and the world out of the “Ecocide Morass” bequeath by the fossil exploitation. On top of that Green is good for the Spirit. It is like a long walk in Eden.

  6. Nick says:

    The natural follow-up question: “So, Mitt, do you support spending $90bn to hire 2 million teachers? And how many teachers would $90bn in tax cuts hire?”

  7. Weslay Rolley says:

    You said that very well, my friend. And most of the “green jobs” can not be outsourced to other countries, installation in the US means jobs in the US.

    But maybe it would be better to learn a trade that can be practiced when energy becomes too expensive for all.

  8. Chris Winter says:

    Fifty years of what oil and gas receive[s]?

    I think Rmoney is exaggerating. I remember a post a month or two ago here about how the administration proposed eliminating $113 billion in fossil-fuel subsidies over ten years.

    I don’t have a link to check my memory, but I think that will hold up.

  9. MarkusR says:

    Since when has green jobs and teachers been an either/or decision.

    Obama would have been happy to spend another $90 billion to rehire teachers, police, and firefighters, if the GOP wasn’t blocking every such move in congress.

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    What with computerisation, automation and the ready availability of scads of low paid, well educated labour in the Third World, the Bosses simply do not need highly educated serfs in their home territory any more. An educated but thwarted individual is dangerous. An ignorant, hyper-obese buffoon, dying years younger than his parents, sitting stuporose in front of a screen is the living embodiment of ‘Freedom’- to vegetate.

  11. Ozonator says:

    Are you referring to Jindal/ExxonMobil’s Louisiana and similar Red States. The highest form of political activism is owning guns and not reading the directions. However, it does cut down on graffiti since there is no spellcheck on the spray cans. Our extremist leaders tend not to use it anyway setting an example for the rest to “deregulate” porn/EPA. Didn’t the last Pres Bush kinda fail at running a professional baseball team, oil company, and the US economy with much of the nation’s retirement lost to a few GOP friends? Even Bush’s tanning bed hay-day causes cancer in one of the few uses of “solar”. If nothing else, President Obama’s increase of solar allows for victims of AGW hurricanes to have power when the main line is destroyed or provided through exhaust choking fumes. Romney would also call these people losers while he can eat his Mormon 10-year food supply only through the almighty energy of the Keystone pipeline?

  12. Louise Helshaw says:

    I use a Home Energy Monitor in my home to track my energy usage and it’s saved me 100s of dollars per year. This –, site gives you a review of the Home Energy Monitor I use in my house.

  13. Susan Anderson says:

    It is impossible to debate with a shameless liar. Unfortunately, education appears to have failed to make people check their own facts. They just believe what they want to if the voice is authoritative enough. This provides a thread of consistency in putting education and clean energy at opposite ends of a tug of war for funding. As long as education fails, dirty energy gets the funding. So they are on the same side, not opposites.

    Cowards. Cowards! COWARDS! Time to equate lieing with cowardice.

  14. Richard Sequest says:

    The debate was pure theater. Obama was wise to let Romney hang himself in a tangle of his own lies and flip flops, which are becoming more evident by the day.

  15. Buzz B says:

    For folks who want to destroy this talking point by fossil fuel loyalists, I strongly recommend ‘What would jefferson do?’, which tracks the history of federal financial help for energy sources. You learn pretty quickly that the assistance received by renewables pales in comparison to the assistance fossil fuel industries have received over the years, espacially when they were in their infoancy.

  16. JohnD says:

    Romney’s comparison of the level of assistance for green energy with that for fossil fuels conveniently leaves out the military budget. Anyone care to guess how much of that gets spent on protecting fossil sources of energy? And is that cost built into the price at the pumps or the socket? Dream on.