Tester, Daines Grill Officials Over Whitefish Energy Contract

CBS News

Edison Electric Institute and American Public Power Association said Tuesday they would step in to the recovery effort in response to a letter from Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.

Whitefish is based in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose son worked for the company. Company and administration officials denied those claims.

Despite Donald Trump's claims that the administration's recovery effort in Puerto Rico merits a "10 out of 10", the US territory remains in the throes of a major humanitarian crisis. Many, such as the ACLU's Gabriela Meléndez Olivera, have argued that "the American citizens living in Puerto Rico and other US territories" are regarded as "second-class citizens", and "the Trump administration and Congress' lack of adequate action to provide aid to the island is a modern-day reflection of that second-class status".

Whitefish spokesman Chris Chiames tells The Associated Press that Sunday's cancellation will only delay efforts to restore power for Puerto Rico, which was hit hard by Hurricane Maria. The company had brought 350 workers to the island and expected to have a total of 500 this week.

Audits of the Whitefish contract at a local and federal level are ongoing, and the governor also announced the appointment of an outside coordinator to oversee the power company's purchase and contracting division.

Tuesday's meeting began with a prayer, and Puerto Rico's government liaison to the board, Christian Sobrino, responded during roll call that he was "alive", instead of the traditional "present". According to PREPA head Ricardo Ramos, FEMA approved the Whitefish deal, but FEMA officials said they did not. The governor added that he has requested assistance from NY and Florida under the "mutual aid" agreements that utilities usually activate during emergencies-as was the case in Texas and Florida after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, respectively-but which Puerto Rico had not done post-Maria.

The Army Corps said it was modifying the contract to ensure 'continued execution of the critical fix and restoration of the electric power grid in Puerto Rico'. As the [Ramos] letter outlines, extensive portions of the transmission network in Puerto Rico run through rugged, mountainous terrain with little or no road access.

Byrne stopped short of committing to meeting Rossello's benchmark of restoring 95 percent of power by mid-December.

The APPA represents government power utilities. The more controversial Whitefish contract was handled directly with PREPA.

Fluor, which declined comment, was already in the process of bringing in people to help restore transmission and distribution of power to the US territory.

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