Lost in the hubbub following President Obama's climate agreement with China was a smaller bit of surprising environmental news Wednesday: the Department of Energy's loan program is expected to make money for taxpayers.
Most people are familiar with the program because of Solyndra, a solar-panel manufacturer that went bankrupt in 2011 after borrowing $528 million from the federal government. Solyndra was one of a few bad bets the feds made -- Fisker Automotive, which built electric cars, went under last year.
You can't avoid defaults when you lend money, though, and on balance, the loans are being repaid. A report released in the next several days will give the department's first estimates of how the program is performing financially: the loans and guarantees will earn at least $5 billion over 20 years or so, according to a Bloomberg article citing a single anonymous source.
It is hard to know what kind of rate of return that number represents without more exact figures, and it's also important to note that the report contains projections based on the history of the program so far. The companies the government has backed could do worse than predicted. Then again, they might do even better.
In any case, the report won't end the debate over Solyndra. Conservatives are likely to argue that even if the program is earning money for taxpayers, the government should have lowered taxes and let citizens invest the money themselves. Some conservatives might even suggest a tax on carbon dioxide would be a more straightforward way of encouraging research into clean energy.
In short, you can still take issue with the whole idea of the loans if you like, but you can't claim that the program has been mismanaged or call it a failure or a boondoggle anymore.
What's in Wonkbook: 1) Keystone pipeline vote scheduled 2) Opinions: Obamacare, pigs and the climate deal 3) Gay marriage allowed in Kansas 4) Banks penalized in foreign exchange collusion probe 5) Untested rape kits will be examined and more
Chart of the day:
The number of people working part time who would prefer to be working full time doubled during the financial crisis. It's since fallen significantly, but remains around 60 percent above its level before the recession. Why so many people are working part time is a matter of debate. Some economy say the job market just needs more time to recover. Nick Timiraos in The Wall Street Journal.
1. Top story: Congress to vote on the Keystone XL pipeline
Landrieu will use the vote to appeal to constituents in Louisiana's runoff. The runoff is Dec. 6, and Landrieu (D-Louisiana) made clear that she wants to vote to approve the pipeline before then. "I don’t think we necessarily need to wait until January," she said, noting that she could lose her seat. Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.
Still, the proposal might not have enough votes to pass a filibuster. There are 57 or 58 senators ready to vote for approval. The House will vote Thursday and the Senate as early as Tuesday. A White House spokesman said Obama has "a dim view" of any legislative requirement that a specific project ought to be built, but did not say the president is planning to veto the bill. Elana Schor at Politico.
The official report on the pipeline might understate the greenhouse gas emissions involved. The State Department study didn't take into account the fact that a relatively small increase in the worldwide supply of oil would also encourage people everywhere to burn more fuel, increasing carbon dioxide pollution. Neela Banerjee in the Los Angeles Times, August 2014.
MILBANK: Congress is doing what's best for Landrieu, not for the country. Congress is setting aside several urgent questions to help Landrieu, who is behind in the polls. What's more, Obama might have been able to use approval of the pipeline in later negotiations with Republicans. Now he might lose that leverage. The Washington Post.
2. Top opinions: Jonathan Gruber, the climate deal, and a dilemma for Christie
IRWIN: Jonathan Gruber reveals Washington's dirty secret. The economist is being attacked for saying that Obamacare was structured to make the law more palatable politically. In fact, many laws are, which often leads to inefficient and convoluted public policy. The New York Times.
GREENHOUSE: The Supreme Court oversteps its authority in taking a challenge to Obamacare. There's no disagreement among the appellate courts for the Supreme Court to resolve. Its decision to review King v. Burwell is a betrayal of what are supposed to be conservative principles of judicial restraint. The New York Times.
FRIEDERSDORF: Pregnant pigs' welfare is now a problem for Chris Christie. The New Jersey state legislature believes that giving pregnant pigs be given more space to move is clearly the right thing to do, but if Christie signs the bill, he risks alienating the pork industry nationwide and damaging his chances for a presidential nomination. The Atlantic.
KRUPP: The agreement with China on global warming changes the game. Now that it's clear that China and the United States can act in concert, diplomats, engineers and investors all around the world will have a reason to work together. The Wall Street Journal.
YGLESIAS: To raise wages, eliminate unnecessary zoning ordinances and land-use laws. Construction projects would benefit the working class in the short term with higher wages, rents would decrease and cities would become denser and more efficient. Vox.
WILLIAMS: Democrats will likely reject Obama's education policies in 2016. Common Core and other initiatives associated with the administration are unpopular -- especially among teachers. The difficult question is what policies Democrats will lay out as a replacement. The New Republic.
Kindergarten interlude: You can now download the unauthorized Ted Cruz coloring book, "Ted Saves America." According to the publisher, the book is a "nonpartisan, fact-driven... educational tool." Sarah Larimer in The Washington Post.
3. Court allows gay marriage in Kansas
The Supreme Court lifted a stay on gay-marriages licenses in Kansas Wednesday night. The justices did not provide a reason for making Kansas the 33rd state in which couples of the same sex can get married. Robert Barnes in The Washington Post.
Also on Wednesday, a lower court in South Carolina ruled against that state's ban on gay marriage. South Carolina has promised to appeal. Harriet McLeod and Lawrence Hurley for Reuters.
FELDMAN: Will the justices trade votes on Obamacare and gay marriage? They might never admit it, even to themselves, but justices do sometimes rule with the other side on one case in order to be sure of winning another that's more important to them. Bloomberg.
4. Banks fined in foreign-currency fixing investigation
Six major banks agreed to pay regulators $4.3 billion to settle claims that they rigged markets. Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase paid the largest fines of the group. Suzi Ring, Liam Vaughan and Jesse Hamilton for Bloomberg.
Agents of these firms were allegedly getting together to manipulate foreign-currency prices. They "were nabbed tinkering with the price of a widely used daily benchmark. Known as the WM/Reuters 'fix,' it sets prices for major currencies based on trades concluded during the 30 seconds either side of 4 p.m. in London. The bankers involved diddled the fix to their own advantage. They colluded by sharing information about clients’ pending orders and adjusting their own prices accordingly. Easy profits and plentiful bonuses ensued. Losers included those whose foreign-exchange contracts were tied to the 4 p.m. fix, including many firms and mutual funds." The Economist.
More penalties may be on the way. Barclays, for example, did not join the settlement, apparently due to a dispute with state banking authorities in New York. The bank risks losing its license if it admits to wrongdoing. Steve Slater for Reuters.
LEVINE: How much money did the banks make illegally? Regulators don't really seem to care to find out. Still, they were brazenly cheating. Bloomberg.
5. In case you missed it
Manhattan's D.A. found funds to process rape kits. He will dedicate $35 million in seized assets to testing hundreds of thousands of unexamined rape kits in cities around the country. Tatiana Schlossberg in The New York Times.
The deal with China won't stop climate change. There's just too much carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. But the deal could have symbolic value if the agreement between China and the United States helps other countries make real commitments. Chris Mooney in The Washington Post.
What happens when young professionals push the poor out of cheap apartments? In Chicago, small, one-room apartments are transformed into ritzy studios available for $1,125 a month. It's a particularly stark example of the gentrification that's happening in cities nationally. Emily Badger in The Washington Post.
"Alpha House" is out, and it's hilarious. "Besides the fact that the episodes are laugh-out-loud funny, the show has another great virtue. Alpha House is written with genuine affection for the real human beings, warts and all, who occupy it." Norm Ornstein in National Journal.