Michael Bastasch, DCNF
Government auditors questioned more than $38 million spent on a Texas clean coal project, including $1.3 million spent on “questionable or prohibited travel related expenses.”
Taxpayers were billed for “spa service, alcohol, first-class travel, limousine services, receipts in foreign currency, and business meals,” according to an Office of Inspector General audit released Tuesday.
Former President Barack Obama’s administration started funding the Texas Clean Energy Project in 2010 as part of an effort to prove the commercial viability of carbon capture and storage technology. However, the project suffered from delays and massive cost overruns.
The Energy Department signed a $1.7 billion cooperative agreement with developer Summit, pumping about $116 million into the project by early 2016. The clean coal project remains unbuilt, and Summit filed for bankruptcy in October 2017.
The Energy Department pulled out of the cooperative agreement shortly after a 2016 inspector general audit questioned the clean coal project’s viability, but not before bureaucrats approved millions in questionable reimbursements.
The inspector general “identified over $2.5 million in expenditures Summit charged to the Project that we questioned as potentially unallowable, including over $1.2 million in potential lobbying costs and $1.3 million in questionable or prohibited travel-related expenses.”
“For example, we identified over $650,000 in consultant charges for items such as a spa service, alcohol, first-class travel, limousine services, receipts in foreign currency, and business meals that were prohibited or not fully substantiated,” the inspector general reported.
“We also identified about $325,000 in costs that did not appear to be business-related expenses such as catering and banquet room rental expenses, catering on a private jet, and travel expenses to attend a charity event,” reads the report.
“Under Federal regulation, a cost is considered reasonable if it is necessary for the conduct of the contractor’s business or contract performance,” auditors wrote. “Because these events appeared to be social in nature and were not necessary for contract performance, we consider them questionable.”
Energy Secretary Rick Perry supported the Texas Clean Energy Project while serving as governor of the Lone Star state, and has continued to fund carbon capture projects. The agency announced on Friday another $44 million in funding for carbon capture projects.
The Texas clean coal project was supposed to be being operation in 2014. Instead, the project got bogged down in $2 billion in cost-overruns and eventually lost government support in 2016.
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