Overnight Energy: Montana energy firm feuds with San Juan mayor over contract

Overnight Energy: Montana energy firm feuds with San Juan mayor over contract
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WHITEFISH FEUDS WITH SAN JUAN MAYOR: The mayor of Puerto Rico's largest city called for the territory to terminate its contract with a Montana company to fix the country's electric grid, prompting a dust-up with Whitefish Energy on Wednesday.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said Wednesday morning the company's contract should be "voided", questioning its legal and ethical standing. Whitefish Energy had only two full-time employees when the $300 million contract was signed and is based in Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeTrump admin gets lowest-ever ethics ratings in Gallup poll PR campaigns to millennials won’t change the fact that coal’s future is dead American workers will power the renewables revolution. Let’s make sure they have the skills to succeed MORE's Montana hometown.

In a Twitter exchange later in the day, Whitefish raised the possibility its workers could leave San Juan, saying, "We've got 44 linemen rebuilding power lines in your city & 40 more men just arrived. Do you want us to send them back or keep working?"

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Cruz tweeted in response that the company's comments are a threat, expanding on her criticisms of the company's contract from earlier Wednesday.

"They are threatening not to do their job which frankly is quite irregular for a company hired to the work for the public sector."

Whitefish said Wednesday it had hired hundreds of workers to tackle the task of repairing the country's electric grid, crippled last month by Hurricane Maria.

A company spokesman said the tweet to Cruz is not a threat, but meant to foreshadow what the company would have to do if its contract with the island is voided.

Read more here.

Tesla begins work on Puerto Rico solar farm: Tesla has set up a solar farm in Puerto Rico to restore power to a children's hospital that was damaged by Maria.

Founder Elon Musk posted photos of the solar-battery project on his Instagram page, saying it would be the "first of many" similar projects that the company will set up on the island.

"Hospital del Niño (Children's Hospital) is the first of many solar+battery Tesla projects going live in Puerto Rico," Musk wrote Tuesday.

Earlier this month, Musk boasted of Tesla's electric rebuilding abilities and offered to have the company rebuild Puerto Rico's power grid using batteries and solar power. Musk met with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to discuss the project.

Read more here.

Puerto Rico Oversight Board taps manager for utility: Puerto Rico's federal Oversight Board is naming a manager for its electric utility, with the goal of turning it around.

The announcement of Noel Zamot's appointment as chief transformation officer at the struggling Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) came as congressional interest in the Whitefish contract grows.

"I am fully committed to bringing the resources necessary to restore electricity to the people of Puerto Rico as quickly as possible, and to re-activate the economy and bring normalcy to the Island," Zamot said in a statement.

"The goal is to fully align these recovery efforts with PREPA's long term transformation plan, making the power system more modern, resilient and reliable."

High electricity prices, debt, outdated infrastructure and poor generation facilities at PREPA were some of the chief contributing factors to the island's fiscal crisis.

Zamot has already been working for the Oversight Board. In August, José Carrión, the board's chairman, said working toward privatizing PREPA would be a priority for Zamot, according to Caribbean Business.

COMMITTEE ADVANCES EPA NOMINEES: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee advanced the nominations of Trump's highly controversial chemical safety nominee for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Wednesday.

The panel voted 11-10 to advance Michael Dourson's nomination. The vote fell along party lines, with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats opposed.

By the same 11-10 party-line vote, the panel approved William Wehrum, a lawyer for industry clients, to lead the EPA's important air and radiation office, which oversees air pollution, climate change regulations, car pollution standards and other major programs.

The panel's Democrats repeatedly ripped into Dourson and Wehrum for what they saw as clear conflicts of interest.

"Dr. Dourson's record is clear. Throughout much of his career, Dr. Dourson has essentially sold science to the highest bidder and recommended standards for toxic chemicals that were tens, hundreds, sometimes even thousands of times less protective than EPA's own standards," said Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperSenate Dems to Mnuchin: Don't index capital gains to inflation Overnight Energy: Reporters barred from Day 2 of EPA summit | Dems blame Trump for gas price increases | Massachusetts to get new offshore wind farm Dems question whether administration broke law with citizenship question on census MORE (Del.), the top Democrat on the panel.

"Can this be the best person the administration can find to entrust responsibilities of this critical leadership post? God, I hope not."

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSenate panel advances Trump nominee who wouldn't say if Brown v. Board of Education was decided correctly What's wrong with the Democratic Party? Just look at California Dems question whether administration broke law with citizenship question on census MORE (D-Calif.) said Dourson and Wehrum "so clearly are in conflicts of interest on the issues that they are now going to be in charge of making decisions on that will impact directly the American public."

Read more here.

 

EPA to consider pollution regulations: The EPA said Wednesday it would consider ways to streamline its air pollution permitting process as a way to help the energy industry.

As part of a review President Trump mandated earlier this year, the EPA said it would undertake four new initiatives to re-evaluate how it regulates pollution.

The most notable of those is the creation of a new task force to reconsider the permitting process for new sources of air pollution under the Clean Air Act, called the New Source Review (NSR).

"The potential costs, complexity and delays that may arise from the NSR permitting process can slow the construction of domestic energy exploration, production, or transmission facilities that must undergo review," the EPA wrote in a 15-page report on its regulations.

"In some circumstances, the NSR process discourages the construction of new facilities or modifications of existing ones that could result in greater environmental improvements. Such reactions to the NSR process slows the growth of domestic energy resources..."

Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Groups sue Interior over bird killing policy | Dem seeks probe into EPA blocking reporters from event | Report faults safety standards at Texas chemical plant Dem lawmaker calls for investigation into EPA blocking reporters from event House Dems request information from EPA on Pruitt's legal fund MORE said he will convene a task force to assess the issue.

Read more here.

 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 'My desire each day is to bless the president and the decisions he's making' -- Pruitt, in an interview with Bloomberg.

 

WHITE HOUSE FLOATS GAS TAX BUMP: The White House may back the first hike in the federal gasoline tax in decades in order to pay for President Trump's $1 trillion infrastructure package.  

Trump's economic adviser Gary Cohn told moderate House lawmakers at a private meeting on Wednesday that they'll get a chance to vote on a gas tax hike early next year as part of an infrastructure bill, which was first reported by Politico Playbook.

"Cohn seemed receptive to it," one meeting participant told The Hill.

Separately, an industry source tells The Hill that the White House intends to back a 7-cent gas tax increase to pay for U.S. roads, bridges, highways and other public works, though it's unclear if the proposal would be included in initial infrastructure legislation or if the administration will push to have it added at the committee level.

Trump signaled some openness to raising the federal gas tax earlier this year, telling Bloomberg News that it's something he would "certainly consider." But the idea, a politically fraught issue that lawmakers have avoided for years, quickly ran into fierce opposition from GOP lawmakers and influential conservatives.

Read more here.

 

ON TAP THURSDAY I: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on cybersecurity for the electric grid.

 

AROUND THE WEB:

After preparing nearly 2 million meals, Washington, D.C.-based chef Jose Andres is preparing to wind down relief operations in Puerto Rico, the New York Times reports.

The Interior Department caused confusion about its position on California's proposed Delta Tunnels project Wednesday and tried to clarify that it would seek to continue collaborating with the state on the matter, the Los Angeles Times reports.

A volunteer group regularly visits the ghost town of Centralia, Pa., where a mine fire has been burning for decades, to clean up trash and graffiti, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Wednesday's stories...

-San Juan mayor: Energy company 'threatening not to do their job'

-EPA plans to streamline air pollution permitting

-Tesla builds solar farm to power children's hospital in Puerto Rico

-White House eyes 7-cent gas tax hike for infrastructure plan

-No mention of climate change in Interior's draft strategic plan

-Senate panel advances Trump's controversial EPA chemical pick

-San Juan mayor calls to 'void' contract awarded to tiny Montana company

-Ex-EPA official: Trump worse than Bush on respecting science

 

Please send tips and comments to Timothy Cama, tcama@thehill.com and Devin Henry dhenry@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @Timothy_Cama@dhenry@thehill