Energy & Environment

Democrats call for investigation into Puerto Rico utility deal

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House Democrats are pushing for an investigation into a contract signed by a small Montana-based energy company to help restore Puerto Rico’s electrical grid.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee, said Democrats have “pushed for a full investigation of some sort” into Whitefish Energy’s agreement to repair Puerto Rico’s hurricane-damaged energy infrastructure.

“I think there’s more digging to be done,” Grijalva said Tuesday. “We’re looking at it; we pushed for a full investigation of some sort.”

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The Washington Post reported Monday on the $300 million contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, which Whitefish Energy signed last week to help the island recover from Hurricane Maria.

Whitefish is a two-year-old company that had only two employees when Maria struck Puerto Rico last month. As of Monday, it said it had 280 employees in Puerto Rico, mostly contractors. 

The company is based in the small Montana hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Zinke’s office told the Post he knows the company’s CEO and that one of his sons worked at the firm as a summer job. But the agency and company executives said Zinke had no role in the company’s Puerto Rico contract.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said Tuesday that he had not yet read reports about the contract. A GOP spokesman told the Post that the deal “raises numerous questions” and that the committee would examine it. The Natural Resources Committee has jurisdiction over Puerto Rico.

Zinke met with committee members on Capitol Hill Tuesday, but the topic of the discussion was classified and lawmakers coming out of the meeting wouldn’t say what it was about.

Grijalva said that “85 percent of the meeting ended up being dominated by this topic,” though he suggested the “classified hearing could have been in front of the full committee.”

He said his staff is working to bring Zinke back to the Hill for a meeting to discuss “substantive issues” involving the Interior Department, including Whitefish Energy, the agency’s Antiquities Act review, staffing and other topics.

An Interior Department spokeswoman did not immediately return a request for comment.

Timothy Cama and Scott Wong contributed.

Tags Interior Department Puerto Rico Rob Bishop Ryan Zinke

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