Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are planning to probe a shady Trump administration deal that awarded a $300 million contract to rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid to a tiny, new firm in Montana.
Whitefish Energy, a two-year-old company with two full-time employees, signed a $300 million deal with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to rebuild large parts of the island’s storm-ravaged power grid, according to The Washington Post. It is the biggest contract issued in the relief effort thus far.
The firm’s biggest previous contract was to build fewer than five miles of electrical line in Arizona.
In order to approve the deal, PREPA had to ignore “mutual aid” agreements it had with other utilities which helped Florida and Texas recover quickly after they were hit by hurricanes
It doesn’t hurt that the firm is located in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s hometown of Whitefish, Montana.
Zinke denied any involvement in the deal. His son had a summer job at one of the company’s construction sites, according to The Post.
“Neither the secretary nor anyone in his office have taken any meetings or action on behalf of this company,” the department said in a statement.
The department admitted Zinke knows Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanskis, downplaying the relationship “because they both live in a small town where everyone knows everyone.”
The department did admit to being in contact with Techmanskis after the contract was awarded.
Now Congress plans to review the deal that raised eyebrows among both Democrats and Republicans.
Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said Congress “needs to understand why the Whitefish contract was awarded and whether other, more cost-effective options were available.”
A spokesperson for the committee’s Republican chairman Utah Rep. Rob Bishop “agreed that congressional review was needed,” according to the Post.
“The size and unknown details of this contract raise numerous questions. This is one of many things the committee is taking a close look at as it continues to work with the resident commissioner, governor’s office and oversight board to ensure Puerto Rico’s recovery is robust, effective and sustained,” Bishop’s spokesman Parish Braden told the paper.
In the Senate, Washington Democrat Maria Cantwell has called on the Government Accountability Office to investigate the contract, calling Whitefish Energy a “brand-new company with two employees.”
“The contract should be voided right away and a proper process which is clear, transparent, legal, moral and ethical should take place,” Cruz told the site.
“It seems like what the Puerto Rican people are going to be paying for, or the American people are going to be paying for, is an intermediary that doesn’t know what is at stake here and that really has to subcontract everything. … What we need is somebody that can get the job done and that has the expertise to get the job done.”