Dems ask for investigation into Whitefish Energy deal

Dems ask for investigation into Whitefish Energy deal

Two Democrats are calling for an investigation into a contract awarded to Whitefish Energy to restore power to Puerto Rico.

Sens. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellSenate votes to extend key funding mechanism for parks White House poised to take action on AI, 5G Overnight Energy: States press Trump on pollution rules | EPA puts climate skeptic on science board | Senate tees up vote on federal lands bill MORE (Wash.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHigh stakes as Trump, Dems open drug price talks Dem lawmaker: 'Trump's presidency is the real national emergency' Dems introduce bill to take gender-specific terms out of tax code to make it LGBT-inclusive MORE (Ore.) sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting a probe.

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"We are writing to request that you investigate the use of public money to reimburse work completed under a contract between Whitefish Energy Holdings LLC (Whitefish) and Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA, or Autoridad de Energia Electrica) to restore PREPA's electric power system in the wake of Hurricane Maria," the senators said in the letter, addressed to Eugene Dodaro, the head of the GAO.

"Restoring and rebuilding the grid is central to the public health, welfare, safety, and economic growth of Puerto Rico. Like all U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans deserve no less."

Whitefish Energy, which is based in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's hometown in Montana, signed a $300 million contract to help overhaul the island's grid following Hurricane Maria. 

The deal raised eyebrows. The company is only two years old and had just two employees when PREPA signed the contract.

In their letter, the two lawmakers cited recent reports they said "raised serious allegations about the nature and circumstances surrounding" the contract.

"Among the principal concerns raised in these reports are the potentially inflated costs of time and material in the contract relative to comparable at-cost utility mutual aid agreements," the letter said.

The senators also cited the "contemporaneous communications" between Whitefish and administration officials including Zinke.

"We are intent, along with many of our colleagues in Congress, on providing the hardworking federal workers, private sector workers, utility crews, and Puerto Ricans the necessary federal resources to restore electric power immediately on the island and to rebuild the grid in a more resilient way that facilitates long-term growth," the statement said.

"It is essential that as we deliver these resources we have confidence the funds are being spent wisely and cost-effectively."

The request comes after the company feuded earlier this week with the mayor of San Juan after she called for the contract to fix the island's hurricane-ravaged electrical grid to be "voided."

The governor of Puerto Rico this week requested an audit into how the company won a multimillion-dollar contract to restore power to the island.

Puerto Rico's financial oversight board also reportedly plans to appoint an emergency manager to oversee its electric utility.

Most of Puerto Rico is still without electricity more than a month after Hurricane Maria hit the island.